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Title: Daniel Webster
Author: Lodge, Henry Cabot, 1850-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Daniel Webster" ***

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[Linda Cantoni ]

American Statesmen



American Statesmen






The Riverside Press Cambridge
























[NOTE.--In preparing this volume I have carefully examined all the
literature contemporary and posthumous relating to Mr. Webster. I have not
gone beyond the printed material, of which there is a vast mass, much of it
of no value, but which contains all and more than is needed to obtain a
correct understanding of the man and of his public and private life. No one
can pretend to write a life of Webster without following in large measure
the narrative of events as given in the elaborate, careful, and scholarly
biography which we owe to Mr. George T. Curtis. In many of my conclusions I
have differed widely from those of Mr. Curtis, but I desire at the outset
to acknowledge fully my obligations to him. I have sought information in
all directions, and have obtained some fresh material, and, as I believe,
have thrown a new light upon certain points, but this does not in the least
diminish the debt which I owe to the ample biography of Mr. Curtis in
regard to the details as well as the general outline of Mr. Webster's
public and private life.]



No sooner was the stout Puritan Commonwealth of Massachusetts firmly
planted than it began rapidly to throw out branches in all directions. With
every succeeding year the long, thin, sinuous line of settlements stretched
farther and farther away to the northeast, fringing the wild shores of the
Atlantic with houses and farms gathered together at the mouths or on the
banks of the rivers, and with the homes of hardy fishermen which clustered
in little groups beneath the shelter of the rocky headlands. The extension
of these plantations was chiefly along the coast, but there was also a
movement up the river courses toward the west and into the interior. The
line of northeastern settlements began first to broaden in this way very
slowly but still steadily from the plantations at Portsmouth and Dover,
which were nearly coeval with the flourishing towns of the Bay. These
settlements beyond the Massachusetts line all had one common and marked
characteristic. They were all exposed to Indian attack from the earliest
days down to the period of the Revolution. Long after the dangers of Indian
raids had become little more than a tradition to the populous and
flourishing communities of Massachusetts Bay, the towns and villages of
Maine and New Hampshire continued to be the outposts of a dark and bloody
border land. French and Indian warfare with all its attendant horrors was
the normal condition during the latter part of the seventeenth and the
first quarter of the eighteenth century. Even after the destruction of the
Jesuit missions, every war in Europe was the signal for the appearance of
Frenchmen and savages in northeastern New England, where their course was
marked by rapine and slaughter, and lighted by the flames of burning
villages. The people thus assailed were not slow in taking frequent and
thorough vengeance, and so the conflict, with rare intermissions, went on
until the power of France was destroyed, and the awful danger from the
north, which had hung over the land for nearly a century, was finally

The people who waged this fierce war and managed to make headway in despite
of it were engaged at the same time in a conflict with nature which was
hardly less desperate. The soil, even in the most favored places, was none
of the best, and the predominant characteristic of New Hampshire was the
great rock formation which has given it the name of the Granite State.
Slowly and painfully the settlers made their way back into the country,
seizing on every fertile spot, and wringing subsistence and even a certain
prosperity from a niggardly soil and a harsh climate. Their little hamlets
crept onward toward the base of those beautiful hills which have now become
one of the favorite play-grounds of America, but which then frowned grimly
even in summer, dark with trackless forests, and for the larger part of the
year were sheeted with the glittering, untrampled snow from which they
derive their name. Stern and strong with the force of an unbroken
wilderness, they formed at all times a forbidding background to the sparse
settlements in the valleys and on the seashore.

This life of constant battle with nature and with the savages, this work of
wresting a subsistence from the unwilling earth while the hand was always
armed against a subtle and cruel foe, had, of course, a marked effect upon
the people who endured it. That, under such circumstances, men should have
succeeded not only in gaining a livelihood, but should have attained also a
certain measure of prosperity, established a free government, founded
schools and churches, and built up a small but vigorous and thriving
commonwealth, is little short of marvellous. A race which could do this had
an enduring strength of character which was sure to make itself felt
through many generations, not only on their ancestral soil, but in every
region where they wandered in search of a fortune denied to them at home.
The people of New Hampshire were of the English Puritan stock. They were
the borderers of New England, and were among the hardiest and boldest of
their race. Their fierce battle for existence during nearly a century and a
half left a deep impress upon them. Although it did not add new traits to
their character, it strengthened and developed many of the qualities which
chiefly distinguished the Puritan Englishman. These borderers, from lack of
opportunity, were ruder than their more favored brethren to the south, but
they were also more persistent, more tenacious, and more adventurous. They
Were a vigorous, bold, unforgiving, fighting race, hard and stern even
beyond the ordinary standard of Puritanism.

Among the Puritans who settled in New Hampshire about the year 1636, during
the great emigration which preceded the Long Parliament, was one bearing
the name of Thomas Webster. He was said to be of Scotch extraction, but
was, if this be true, undoubtedly of the Lowland or Saxon Scotch as
distinguished from the Gaels of the Highlands. He was, at all events, a
Puritan of English race, and his name indicates that his progenitors were
sturdy mechanics or handicraftsmen. This Thomas Webster had numerous
descendants, who scattered through New Hampshire to earn a precarious
living, found settlements, and fight Indians. In Kingston, in the year
1739, was born one of this family named Ebenezer Webster. The struggle for
existence was so hard for this particular scion of the Webster stock, that
he was obliged in boyhood to battle for a living and pick up learning as he
best might by the sole aid of a naturally vigorous mind. He came of age
during the great French war, and about 1760 enlisted in the then famous
corps known as "Rogers's Rangers." In the dangers and the successes of
desperate frontier fighting, the "Rangers" had no equal; and of their hard
and perilous experience in the wilderness, in conflict with Indians and
Frenchmen, Ebenezer Webster, strong in body and daring in temperament, had
his full share.

When the war closed, the young soldier and Indian fighter had time to look
about him for a home. As might have been expected, he clung to the frontier
to which he was accustomed, and in the year 1763 settled in the
northernmost part of the town of Salisbury. Here he built a log-house, to
which, in the following year, he brought his first wife, and here he began
his career as a farmer. At that time there was nothing civilized between
him and the French settlements of Canada. The wilderness stretched away
from his door an ocean of forest unbroken by any white man's habitation;
and in these primeval woods, although the war was ended and the French
power overthrown, there still lurked roving bands of savages, suggesting
the constant possibilities of a midnight foray or a noonday ambush, with
their accompaniments of murder and pillage. It was a fit home, however, for
such a man as Ebenezer Webster. He was a borderer in the fullest sense in a
commonwealth of borderers. He was, too, a splendid specimen of the New
England race; a true descendant of ancestors who had been for generations
yeomen and pioneers. Tall, large, dark of hair and eyes, in the rough world
in which he found himself he had been thrown at once upon his own resources
without a day's schooling, and compelled to depend on his own innate force
of sense and character for success. He had had a full experience of
desperate fighting with Frenchmen and Indians, and, the war over, he had
returned to his native town with his hard-won rank of captain. Then he had
married, and had established his home upon the frontier, where he remained
battling against the grim desolation of the wilderness and of the winter,
and against all the obstacles of soil and climate, with the same hardy
bravery with which he had faced the Indians. After ten years of this life,
in 1774, his wife died and within a twelvemonth he married again.

Soon after this second marriage the alarm of war with England sounded, and
among the first to respond was the old ranger and Indian fighter, Ebenezer
Webster. In the town which had grown up near his once solitary dwelling he
raised a company of two hundred men, and marched at their head, a splendid
looking leader, dark, massive, and tall, to join the forces at Boston. We
get occasional glimpses of this vigorous figure during the war. At
Dorchester, Washington consulted him about the state of feeling in New
Hampshire. At Bennington, we catch sight of him among the first who scaled
the breastworks, and again coming out of the battle, his swarthy skin so
blackened with dust and gunpowder that he could scarcely be recognized. We
hear of him once more at West Point, just after Arnold's treason, on guard
before the general's tent, and Washington says to him, "Captain Webster, I
believe I can trust you." That was what everybody seems to have felt about
this strong, silent, uneducated man. His neighbors trusted him. They gave
him every office in their gift, and finally he was made judge of the local
court. In the intervals of his toilsome and adventurous life he had picked
up a little book-learning, but the lack of more barred the way to the
higher honors which would otherwise have been easily his. There were
splendid sources of strength in this man, the outcome of such a race, from
which his children could draw. He was, to begin with, a magnificent animal,
and had an imposing bodily presence and appearance. He had courage, energy,
and tenacity, all in high degree. He was business-like, a man of few words,
determined, and efficient. He had a great capacity for affection and
self-sacrifice, noble aspirations, a vigorous mind, and, above all, a
strong, pure character which invited trust. Force of will, force of mind,
force of character; these were the three predominant qualities in Ebenezer
Webster. His life forms the necessary introduction to that of his
celebrated son, and it is well worth study, because we can learn from it
how much that son got from a father so finely endowed, and how far he
profited by such a rich inheritance.

By his first wife, Ebenezer Webster had five children. By his second wife,
Abigail Eastman, a woman of good sturdy New Hampshire stock, he had
likewise five. Of these, the second son and fourth child was born on the
eighteenth of January, 1782, and was christened Daniel. The infant was a
delicate and rather sickly little being. Some cheerful neighbors predicted
after inspection that it would not live long, and the poor mother,
overhearing them, caught the child to her bosom and wept over it. She
little dreamed of the iron constitution hidden somewhere in the small frail
body, and still less of all the glory and sorrow to which her baby was

For many years, although the boy disappointed the village Cassandras by
living, he continued weak and delicate. Manual labor, which began very
early with the children of New Hampshire farmers, was out of the question
in his case, and so Daniel was allowed to devote much of his time to play,
for which he showed a decided aptitude. It was play of the best sort, in
the woods and fields, where he learned to love nature and natural objects,
to wonder at floods, to watch the habits of fish and birds, and to acquire
a keen taste for field sports. His companion was an old British sailor, who
carried the child on his back, rowed with him on the river, taught him the
angler's art, and, best of all, poured into his delighted ear endless
stories of an adventurous life, of Admiral Byng and Lord George Germaine,
of Minden and Gibraltar, of Prince Ferdinand and General Gage, of Bunker
Hill, and finally of the American armies, to which the soldier-sailor had
deserted. The boy repaid this devoted friend by reading the newspapers to
him; and he tells us in his autobiography that he could not remember when
he did not read, so early was he taught by his mother and sisters, in true
New England fashion. At a very early age he began to go to school;
sometimes in his native town, sometimes in another, as the district school
moved from place to place. The masters who taught in these schools knew
nothing but the barest rudiments, and even some of those imperfectly. One
of them who lived to a great age, enlightened perhaps by subsequent events,
said that Webster had great rapidity of acquisition and was the quickest
boy in school. He certainly proved himself the possessor of a very
retentive memory, for when this pedagogue offered a jack-knife as a reward
to the boy who should be able to recite the greatest number of verses from
the Bible, Webster, on the following day, when his turn came, arose and
reeled off verses until the master cried "enough," and handed him the
coveted prize. Another of his instructors kept a small store, and from him
the boy bought a handkerchief on which was printed the Constitution just
adopted, and, as he read everything and remembered much, he read that
famous instrument to which he was destined to give so much of his time and
thought. When Mr. Webster said that he read better than any of his masters,
he was probably right. The power of expression and of speech and readiness
in reply were his greatest natural gifts, and, however much improved by
cultivation, were born in him. His talents were known in the neighborhood,
and the passing teamsters, while they watered their horses, delighted to
get "Webster's boy," with his delicate look and great dark eyes, to come
out beneath the shade of the trees and read the Bible to them with all the
force of his childish eloquence. He describes his own existence at that
time with perfect accuracy. "I read what I could get to read, went to
school when I could, and when not at school, was a farmer's youngest boy,
not good for much for want of health and strength, but expected to do
something." That something consisted generally in tending the saw-mill, but
the reading went on even there. He would set a log, and while it was going
through would devour a book. There was a small circulating library in the
village, and Webster read everything it contained, committing most of the
contents of the precious volumes to memory, for books were so scarce that
he believed this to be their chief purpose.

In the year 1791 the brave old soldier, Ebenezer Webster, was made a judge
of the local court, and thus got a salary of three or four hundred dollars
a year. This accession of wealth turned his thoughts at once toward that
education which he had missed, and he determined that he would give to his
children what he had irretrievably lost himself. Two years later he
disclosed his purpose to his son, one hot day in the hay-field, with a
manly regret for his own deficiencies and a touching pathos which the boy
never forgot. The next spring his father took Daniel to Exeter Academy.
This was the boy's first contact with the world, and there was the usual
sting which invariably accompanies that meeting. His school-mates laughed
at his rustic dress and manners, and the poor little farm lad felt it
bitterly. The natural and unconscious power by which he had delighted the
teamsters was stifled, and the greatest orator of modern times never could
summon sufficient courage to stand up and recite verses before these Exeter
school-boys. Intelligent masters, however, perceived something of what was
in the lad, and gave him a kindly encouragement. He rose rapidly in the
classes, and at the end of nine months his father took him away in order to
place him as a pupil with a neighboring clergyman. As they drove over,
about a month later, to Boscawen, where Dr. Wood, the future preceptor,
lived, Ebenezer Webster imparted to his son the full extent of his plan,
which was to end in a college education. The joy at the accomplishment of
his dearest and most fervent wish, mingled with a full sense of the
magnitude of the sacrifice and of the generosity of his father, overwhelmed
the boy. Always affectionate and susceptible of strong emotion, these
tidings overcame him. He laid his head upon his father's shoulder and wept.

With Dr. Wood Webster remained only six months. He went home on one
occasion, but haying was not to his tastes. He found it "dull and
lonesome," and preferred rambling in the woods with his sister in search of
berries, so that his indulgent father sent him back to his studies. With
the help of Dr. Wood in Latin, and another tutor in Greek, he contrived to
enter Dartmouth College in August, 1797. He was, of course, hastily and
poorly prepared. He knew something of Latin, very little of Greek, and next
to nothing of mathematics, geography, or history. He had devoured
everything in the little libraries of Salisbury and Boscawen, and thus had
acquired a desultory knowledge of a limited amount of English literature,
including Addison, Pope, Watts, and "Don Quixote." But however little he
knew, the gates of learning were open, and he had entered the precincts of
her temple, feeling dimly but surely the first pulsations of the mighty
intellect with which he was endowed.

"In those boyish days," he wrote many years afterwards, "there were two
things which I did dearly love, reading and playing,--passions which did
not cease to struggle when boyhood was over, (have they yet altogether?)
and in regard to which neither _cita mors_ nor the _victoria laeta_ could
be said of either." In truth they did not cease, these two strong passions.
One was of the head, the other of the heart; one typified the intellectual,
the other the animal strength of the boy's nature; and the two contending
forces went with him to the end. The childhood of Webster has a deep
interest which is by no means usual. Great men in their earliest years are
generally much like other boys, despite the efforts of their biographers to
the contrary. If they are not, they are very apt to be little prigs like
the second Pitt, full of "wise saws and modern instances." Webster was
neither the one nor the other. He was simple, natural, affectionate, and
free from pertness or precocity. At the same time there was an innate power
which impressed all those who approached him without their knowing exactly
why, and there was abundant evidence of uncommon talents. Webster's boyish
days are pleasant to look upon, but they gain a peculiar lustre from the
noble character of his father, the deep solicitude of his mother, and the
generous devotion and self-sacrifice of both parents. There was in this
something prophetic. Every one about the boy was laboring and sacrificing
for him from the beginning, and this was not without its effect upon his
character. A little anecdote which was current in Boston many years ago
condenses the whole situation. The story may be true or false,--it is very
probably unfounded,--but it contains an essential truth and illustrates the
character of the boy and the atmosphere in which he grew up. Ezekiel, the
oldest son, and Daniel were allowed on one occasion to go to a fair in a
neighboring town, and each was furnished with a little money from the
slender store at home. When they returned in the evening, Daniel was
radiant with enjoyment; Ezekiel rather silent. Their mother inquired as to
their adventures, and finally asked Daniel what he did with his money.
"Spent it," was the reply. "And what did you do with yours, Ezekiel?" "Lent
it to Daniel." That answer well sums up the story of Webster's home life in
childhood. All were giving or lending to Daniel of their money, their time,
their activity, their love and affection. This petting was partly due to
Webster's delicate health, but it was also in great measure owing to his
nature. He was one of those rare and fortunate beings who without exertion
draw to themselves the devotion of other people, and are always surrounded
by men and women eager to do and to suffer for them. The boy accepted all
that was showered upon him, not without an obvious sense that it was his
due. He took it in the royal spirit which is characteristic of such
natures; but in those childish days when laughter and tears came readily,
he repaid the generous and sacrificing love with the warm and affectionate
gratitude of an earnest nature and a naturally loving heart. He was never
cold, or selfish, or designing. Others loved him, and sacrificed to him,
but he loved them in return and appreciated their sacrifices. These
conditions of his early days must, however, have had an effect upon his
disposition and increased his belief in the fitness of having the devotion
of other people as one of his regal rights and privileges, while, at the
same time, it must have helped to expand his affections and give warmth to
every generous feeling.

The passions for reading and play went with him to Dartmouth, the little
New Hampshire college of which he was always so proud and so fond. The
instruction there was of good quality enough, but it was meagre in quantity
and of limited range, compared to what is offered by most good high schools
of the present day. In the reminiscences of his fellow-students there is
abundant material for a picture of Webster at that time. He was recognized
by all as the foremost man in the college, as easily first, with no second.
Yet at the same time Mr. Webster was neither a student nor a scholar in the
truest sense of the words. He read voraciously all the English literature
he could lay his hands on, and remembered everything he read. He achieved
familiarity with Latin and with Latin authors, and absorbed a great deal of
history. He was the best general scholar in the college. He was not only
not deficient but he showed excellence at recitation in every branch of
study. He could learn anything if he tried. But with all this he never
gained more than a smattering of Greek and still less of mathematics,
because those studies require, for anything more than a fair proficiency, a
love of knowledge for its own sake, a zeal for learning incompatible with
indolence, and a close, steady, and disinterested attention. These were not
the characteristics of Mr. Webster's mind. He had a marvellous power of
rapid acquisition, but he learned nothing unless he liked the subject and
took pleasure in it or else was compelled to the task. This is not the
stuff from which the real student, with an original or inquiring mind, is
made. It is only fair to say that this estimate, drawn from the opinions of
his fellow-students, coincided with his own, for he was too large-minded
and too clear-headed to have any small vanity or conceit in judging
himself. He said soon after he left college, and with perfect truth, that
his scholarship was not remarkable, nor equal to what he was credited with.
He explained his reputation after making this confession by saying that he
read carefully, meditated on what he had read, and retained it so that on
any subject he was able to tell all he knew to the best advantage, and was
careful never to go beyond his depth. There is no better analysis of Mr.
Webster's strongest qualities of mind than this made by himself in
reference to his college standing. Rapid acquisition, quick assimilation of
ideas, an iron memory, and a wonderful power of stating and displaying all
he knew characterized him then as in later life. The extent of his
knowledge and the range of his mind, not the depth or soundness of his
scholarship, were the traits which his companions remembered. One of them
says that they often felt that he had a more extended understanding than
the tutors to whom he recited, and this was probably true. The Faculty of
the college recognized in Webster the most remarkable man who had ever come
among them, but they could not find good grounds to award him the prizes,
which, by his standing among his fellows, ought by every rule to have been
at his feet. He had all the promise of a great man, but he was not a fine

He was studious, punctual, and regular in all his habits. He was so
dignified that his friends would as soon have thought of seeing President
Wheelock indulge in boyish disorders as of seeing him. But with all his
dignity and seriousness of talk and manner, he was a thoroughly genial
companion, full of humor and fun and agreeable conversation. He had few
intimates, but many friends. He was generally liked as well as universally
admired, was a leader in the college societies, active and successful in
sports, simple, hearty, unaffected, without a touch of priggishness and
with a wealth of wholesome animal spirits.

But in these college days, besides the vague feeling of students and
professors that they had among them a very remarkable man, there is a clear
indication that the qualities which afterwards raised him to fame and power
were already apparent, and affected the little world about him. All his
contemporaries of that time speak of his eloquence. The gift of speech, the
unequalled power of statement, which were born in him, just like the
musical tones of his voice, could not be repressed. There was no recurrence
of the diffidence of Exeter. His native genius led him irresistibly along
the inevitable path. He loved to speak, to hold the attention of a
listening audience. He practised off-hand speaking, but he more commonly
prepared himself by meditating on his subject and making notes, which,
however, he never used. He would enter the class-room or debating society
and begin in a low voice and almost sleepy manner, and would then gradually
rouse himself like a lion, and pour forth his words until he had his
hearers completely under his control, and glowing with enthusiasm.

We see too, at this time, the first evidence of that other great gift of
bountiful nature in his commanding presence. He was then tall and thin,
with high cheek bones and dark skin, but he was still impressive. The boys
about him never forgot the look of his deep-set eyes, or the sound of the
solemn tones of his voice, his dignity of mien, and his absorption in his
subject. Above all they were conscious of something indefinable which
conveyed a sense of greatness. It is not usual to dwell so much upon mere
physical attributes and appearance, but we must recur to them again and
again, for Mr. Webster's personal presence was one of the great elements of
his success; it was the fit companion and even a part of his genius, and
was the cause of his influence, and of the wonder and admiration which
followed him, as much almost as anything he ever said or did.

To Mr. Webster's college career belong the first fruits of his intellect.
He edited, during one year, a small weekly journal, and thus eked out his
slender means. Besides his strictly editorial labors, he printed some short
pieces of his own, which have vanished, and he also indulged in poetical
effusions, which he was fond of sending to absent friends. His rhymes are
without any especial character, neither much better nor much worse than
most college verses, and they have no intrinsic value beyond showing that
their author, whatever else he might be, was no poet. But in his own field
something of this time, having a real importance, has come down to us. The
fame of his youthful eloquence, so far beyond anything ever known in the
college, was noised abroad, and in the year 1800 the citizens of Hanover,
the college town, asked him to deliver the Fourth of July oration. In this
production, which was thought of sufficient merit to deserve printing, Mr.
Webster sketched rapidly and exultingly the course of the Revolution, threw
in a little Federal politics, and eulogized the happy system of the new
Constitution. Of this and his other early orations he always spoke with a
good deal of contempt, as examples of bad taste, which he wished to have
buried and forgotten. Accordingly his wholesale admirers and supporters who
have done most of the writing about him, and who always sneezed when Mr.
Webster took snuff, have echoed his opinions about these youthful
productions, and beyond allowing to them the value which everything
Websterian has for the ardent worshipper, have been disposed to hurry them
over as of no moment. Compared to the reply to Hayne or the Plymouth
oration, the Hanover speech is, of course, a poor and trivial thing.
Considered, as it ought to be, by itself and in itself, it is not only of
great interest as Mr. Webster's first utterance on public questions, but it
is something of which he had no cause to feel ashamed. The sentiments are
honest, elevated, and manly, and the political doctrine is sound. Mr.
Webster was then a boy of eighteen, and he therefore took his politics from
his father and his father's friends. For the same reason he was imitative
in style and mode of thought. All boys of that age, whether geniuses or
not, are imitative, and Mr. Webster, who was never profoundly original in
thought, was no exception to the rule. He used the style of the eighteenth
century, then in its decadence, and very florid, inflated, and heavy it
was. Yet his work was far better and his style simpler and more direct than
that which was in fashion. He indulged in a good deal of patriotic
glorification. We smile at his boyish Federalism describing Napoleon as
"the gasconading pilgrim of Egypt," and Columbia as "seated in the forum of
nations, and the empires of the world amazed at the bright effulgence of
her glory." These sentences are the acme of fine writing, very boyish and
very poor; but they are not fair examples of the whole, which is much
simpler and more direct than might have been expected. Moreover, the
thought is the really important thing. We see plainly that the speaker
belongs to the new era and the new generation of national measures and
nationally-minded men. There is no colonialism about him. He is in full
sympathy with the Washingtonian policy of independence in our foreign
relations and of complete separation from the affairs of Europe. But the
main theme and the moving spirit of this oration are most important of all.
The boy Webster preached love of country, the grandeur of American
nationality, fidelity to the Constitution as the bulwark of nationality,
and the necessity and the nobility of the union of the States; and that was
the message which the man Webster delivered to his fellow-men. The enduring
work which Mr. Webster did in the world, and his meaning and influence in
American history, are all summed up in the principles enunciated in that
boyish speech at Hanover. The statement of the great principles was
improved and developed until it towered above this first expression as Mont
Blanc does above the village nestled at its foot, but the essential
substance never altered in the least.

Two other college orations have been preserved. One is a eulogy on a
classmate who died before finishing his course, the other is a discourse on
"Opinion," delivered before the society of the "United Fraternity." There
is nothing of especial moment in the thought of either, and the improvement
in style over the Hanover speech, though noticeable, is not very marked. In
the letters of that period, however, amid the jokes and fun, we see that
Mr. Webster was already following his natural bent, and turning his
attention to politics. He manifests the same spirit as in his oration, and
shows occasionally an unusual maturity of judgment. His criticism of
Hamilton's famous letter to Adams, to take the most striking instance, is
both keen and sound.

After taking his degree in due course in 1801, Mr. Webster returned to his
native village, and entered the office of a lawyer next door to his
father's house, where he began the study of the law in compliance with his
father's wish, but without any very strong inclination of his own. Here he
read some law and more English literature, and passed a good deal of time
in fishing and shooting. Before the year was out, however, he was obliged
to drop his legal studies and accept the post of schoolmaster in the little
town of Fryeburg, Maine.

This change was due to an important event in the Webster family which had
occurred some time before. The affection existing between Daniel and his
elder brother Ezekiel was peculiarly strong and deep. The younger and more
fortunate son, once started in his education, and knowing the desire of his
elder brother for the same advantages, longed to obtain them for him. One
night in vacation, after Daniel had been two years at Dartmouth, the two
brothers discussed at length the all-important question. The next day,
Daniel broached the matter to his father. The judge was taken by surprise.
He was laboring already under heavy pecuniary burdens caused by the
expenses of Daniel's education. The farm was heavily mortgaged, and
Ebenezer Webster knew that he was old before his time and not destined to
many more years of life. With the perfect and self-sacrificing courage
which he always showed, he did not shrink from this new demand, although
Ezekiel was the prop and mainstay of the house. He did not think for a
moment of himself, yet, while he gave his consent, he made it conditional
on that of the mother and daughters whom he felt he was soon to leave. But
Mrs. Webster had the same spirit as her husband. She was ready to sell the
farm, to give up everything for the boys, provided they would promise to
care in the future for her and their sisters. More utter self-abnegation
and more cheerful and devoted self-sacrifice have rarely been exhibited,
and it was all done with a simplicity which commands our reverence. It was
more than should have been asked, and a boy less accustomed than Daniel
Webster to the devotion of others, even with the incentive of brotherly
love, might have shrunk from making the request. The promise of future
support was easily made, but the hard pinch of immediate sacrifice had to
be borne at once. The devoted family gave themselves up to the struggle to
secure an education for the two boys, and for years they did battle with
debt and the pressure of poverty. Ezekiel began his studies and entered
college the year Daniel graduated; but the resources were running low, so
low that the law had to be abandoned and money earned without delay; and
hence the schoolmastership.

At no time in his life does Mr. Webster's character appear in a fairer or
more lovable light than during this winter at Fryeburg. He took his own
share in the sacrifices he had done so much to entail, and he carried it
cheerfully. Out of school hours he copied endless deeds, an occupation
which he loathed above all others, in order that he might give all his
salary to his brother. The burden and heat of the day in this struggle for
education fell chiefly on the elder brother in the years which followed;
but here Daniel did his full part, and deserves the credit for it.

He was a successful teacher. His perfect dignity, his even temper, and
imperturbable equanimity made his pupils like and respect him. The
survivors, in their old age, recalled the impression he made upon them, and
especially remembered the solemn tones of his voice at morning and evening
prayer, extemporaneous exercises which he scrupulously maintained. His
letters at this time are like those of his college days, full of fun and
good humor and kind feeling. He had his early love affairs, but was saved
from matrimony by the liberality of his affections, which were not confined
to a single object. He laughs pleasantly and good-naturedly over his
fortunes with the fair sex, and talks a good deal about them, but his first
loves do not seem to have been very deep or lasting. Wherever he went, he
produced an impression on all who saw him. In Fryeburg it was his eyes
which people seem to have remembered best. He was still very thin in face
and figure, and he tells us himself that he was known in the village as
"All-eyes;" and one of the boys, a friend of later years, refers to Mr.
Webster's "full, steady, large, and searching eyes." There never was a time
in his life when those who saw him did not afterwards speak of his looks,
generally either of the wonderful eyes or the imposing presence.

There was a circulating library in Fryeburg, and this he read through in
his usual rapacious and retentive fashion. Here, too, he was called on for
a Fourth of July oration. This speech, which has been recently printed,
dwells much on the Constitution and the need of adhering to it in its
entirety. There is a distinct improvement in his style in the direction of
simplicity, but there is no marked advance in thought or power of
expression over the Hanover oration. Two months after delivering this
address he returned to Salisbury and resumed the study of the law in Mr.
Thompson's office. He now plunged more deeply into law books, and began to
work at the law with zeal, while at the same time he read much and
thoroughly in the best Latin authors. In the months which ensued his mind
expanded, and ambition began to rise within him. His horizon was a limited
one; the practice of his profession, as he saw it carried on about him, was
small and petty; but his mind could not be shackled. He saw the lions in
the path plainly, but he also perceived the great opportunities which the
law was to offer in the United States, and he prophesied that we, too,
should soon have our Mansfields and Kenyons. The hand of poverty was heavy
upon him, and he was chafing and beating his wings against the iron bars
with which circumstances had imprisoned him. He longed for a wider field,
and eagerly desired to finish his studies in Boston, but saw no way to get
there, except by a "miracle."

This miracle came through Ezekiel, who had been doing more for himself and
his family than any one else, but who, after three years in college, was at
the end of his resources, and had taken, in his turn, to keeping school.
Daniel went to Boston, and there obtained a good private school for his
brother. The salary thus earned by Ezekiel was not only sufficient for
himself, but enabled Daniel to gratify the cherished wish of his heart, and
come to the New England capital to conclude his professional studies.

The first thing to be done was to gain admittance to some good office. Mr.
Webster was lucky enough to obtain an introduction to Mr. Gore, with whom,
as with the rest of the world, that wonderful look and manner, apparent
even then, through boyishness and rusticity, stood him in good stead. Mr.
Gore questioned him, trusted him, and told him to hang up his hat, begin
work as clerk at once, and write to New Hampshire for his credentials. The
position thus obtained was one of fortune's best gifts to Mr. Webster. It
not only gave him an opportunity for a wide study of the law under wise
supervision, but it brought him into daily contact with a trained barrister
and an experienced public man. Christopher Gore, one of the most eminent
members of the Boston bar and a distinguished statesman, had just returned
from England, whither he had been sent as one of the commissioners
appointed under the Jay treaty. He was a fine type of the aristocratic
Federalist leader, one of the most prominent of that little group which
from the "headquarters of good principles" in Boston so long controlled the
politics of Massachusetts. He was a scholar, gentleman, and man of the
world, and his portrait shows us a refined, high-bred face, suggesting a
French marquis of the eighteenth century rather than the son of a New
England sea-captain. A few years later, Mr. Gore was chosen governor of
Massachusetts, and defeated when a candidate for reëlection, largely, it is
supposed, because he rode in a coach and four (to which rumor added
outriders) whenever he went to his estate at Waltham. This mode of travel
offended the sensibilities of his democratic constituents, but did not
prevent his being subsequently chosen to the Senate of the United States,
where he served a term with much distinction. The society of such a man was
invaluable to Mr. Webster at this time. It taught him many things which he
could have learned in no other way, and appealed to that strong taste for
everything dignified and refined which was so marked a trait of his
disposition and habits. He saw now the real possibilities which he had
dreamed of in his native village; and while he studied law deeply and
helped his brother with his school, he also studied men still more
thoroughly and curiously. The professional associates and friends of Mr.
Gore were the leaders of the Boston bar when it had many distinguished men
whose names hold high places in the history of American law. Among them
were Theophilus Parsons, Chief Justice of Massachusetts; Samuel Dexter, the
ablest of them all, fresh from service in Congress and the Senate and as
Secretary of the Treasury; Harrison Gray Otis, fluent and graceful as an
orator; James Sullivan, and Daniel Davis, the Solicitor-General. All these
and many more Mr. Webster saw and watched, and he has left in his diary
discriminating sketches of Parsons and Dexter, whom he greatly admired, and
of Sullivan, of whom he had a poor opinion professionally.

Towards the end of the year 1804, while Mr. Webster was thus pleasantly
engaged in studying his profession, getting a glimpse of the world, and now
and then earning a little money, an opening came to him which seemed to
promise immediate and assured prosperity. The judges of his father's court
of common pleas offered him the vacant clerkship, worth about fifteen
hundred dollars annually. This was wealth to Mr. Webster. With this income
he could relieve the family from debt, make his father's last years
comfortable, and smooth Ezekiel's path to the bar. When, however, he
announced his good luck to Mr. Gore, and his intention of immediately going
home to accept the position, that gentleman, to Mr. Webster's great
surprise, strongly urged a contrary course. He pointed out the possible
reduction of the salary, the fact that the office depended on the favor of
the judges, and, above all, that it led to nothing, and destroyed the
chances of any really great career. This wise mentor said: "Go on and
finish your studies. You are poor enough, but there are greater evils than
poverty; live on no man's favor; what bread you do eat, let it be the bread
of independence; pursue your profession, make yourself useful to your
friends and a little formidable to your enemies, and you have nothing to
fear." Mr. Webster, always susceptible to outside influences, saw the
wisdom of this advice, and accepted it. It would have been well if he had
never swerved even by a hair's breadth from the high and sound principles
which it inculcated. He acted then without delay. Going at once to
Salisbury, he broke the news of his unlooked-for determination to his
father, who was utterly amazed. Pride in his son's high spirit mingled
somewhat with disappointment at the prospect of continued hardships; but
the brave old man accepted the decision with the Puritan stoicism which was
so marked a trait in his character, and the matter ended there.

Returning to Boston, Mr. Webster was admitted to the bar in March, 1805.
Mr. Gore moved his admission, and, in the customary speech, prophesied his
student's future eminence with a sure knowledge of the latent powers which
had dictated his own advice in the matter of the clerkship. Soon after
this, Mr. Webster returned to New Hampshire and opened his office in the
little town of Boscawen, in order that he might be near his father. Here he
devoted himself assiduously to business and study for more than two years,
working at his profession, and occasionally writing articles for the
"Boston Anthology." During this time he made his first appearance in court,
his father being on the bench. He gathered together a practice worth five
or six hundred a year, a very creditable sum for a young country
practitioner, and won a reputation which made him known in the State.

In April, 1806, after a noble, toiling, unselfish life of sixty-seven
years, Ebenezer Webster died. Daniel assumed his father's debts, waited
until Ezekiel was admitted to the bar, and then, transferring his business
to his brother, moved, in the autumn of 1807, to Portsmouth. This was the
principal town of the State, and offered, therefore, the larger field which
he felt he needed to give his talents sufficient scope. Thus the first
period in his life closed, and he started out on the extended and
distinguished career which lay before him. These early years had been years
of hardship, but they were among the best of his life. Through great
difficulties and by the self-sacrifice of his family, he had made his way
to the threshold of the career for which he was so richly endowed. He had
passed an unblemished youth; he had led a clean, honest, hard-working life;
he was simple, manly, affectionate. Poverty had been a misfortune, not
because it had warped or soured him, for he smiled at it with cheerful
philosophy, nor because it had made him avaricious, for he never either
then or at any time cared for money for its own sake, and nothing could
chill the natural lavishness of his disposition. But poverty accustomed him
to borrowing and to debt, and this was a misfortune to a man of Mr.
Webster's temperament. In those early days he was anxious to pay his debts;
but they did not lie heavy upon him or carry a proper sense of
responsibility, as they did to Ezekiel and to his father. He was deeply in
debt; his books, even, were bought with borrowed money, all which was
natural and inevitable; but the trouble was that it never seems to have
weighed upon him or been felt by him as of much importance. He was thus
early brought into the habit of debt, and was led unconsciously to regard
debts and borrowing as he did the sacrifices of others, as the normal modes
of existence. Such a condition was to be deplored, because it fostered an
unfortunate tendency in his moral nature. With this exception, Mr.
Webster's early years present a bright picture, and one which any man had a
right to regard with pride and affection.



The occasion of Mr. Webster's first appearance in court has been the
subject of varying tradition. It is certain, however, that in the counties
where he practised during his residence at Boscawen, he made an unusual and
very profound impression. The effect then produced is described in homely
phrase by one who knew him well. The reference is to a murder trial, in
which Mr. Webster gained his first celebrity.

     "There was a man tried for his life, and the judges chose Webster
     to plead for him; and, from what I can learn, he never has spoken
     better than he did there where he first began. He was a black,
     raven-haired fellow, with an eye as black as death's, and as heavy
     as a lion's,--that same heavy look, not sleepy, but as if he didn't
     care about anything that was going on about him or anything
     anywhere else. He didn't look as if he was thinking about anything,
     but as if he _would_ think like a hurricane if he once got waked up
     to it. They say the lion looks so when he is quiet.... Webster
     would sometimes be engaged to argue a case just as it was coming to
     trial. That would set him to thinking. It wouldn't wrinkle his
     forehead, but made him restless. He would shift his feet about, and
     run his hand up over his forehead, through his Indian-black hair,
     and lift his upper lip and show his teeth, which were as white as a

Of course the speech so admired then was infinitely below what was done
afterwards. The very next was probably better, for Mr. Webster grew
steadily. This observer, however, tells us not what Mr. Webster said, but
how he looked. It was the personal presence which dwelt with every one at
this time.

Thus with his wonderful leonine look and large, dark eyes, and with the
growing fame which he had won, Mr. Webster betook himself to Portsmouth. He
had met some of the leading lawyers already, but now he was to be brought
into direct and almost daily competition with them. At that period in New
England there was a great rush of men of talent to the bar, then casting
off its colonial fetters and emerging to an independent life. The pulpit
had ceased to attract, as of old; medicine was in its infancy; there were
none of the other manifold pursuits of to-day, and politics did not offer a
career apart. Outside of mercantile affairs, therefore, the intellectual
forces of the old Puritan commonwealths, overflowing with life, and feeling
the thrill of youthful independence and the confidence of rapid growth in
business, wealth, and population, were concentrated in the law. Even in a
small State like New Hampshire, presenting very limited opportunities,
there was, relatively speaking, an extraordinary amount of ability among
the members of the bar, notwithstanding the fact that they had but just
escaped from the condition of colonists. Common sense was the divinity of
both the courts and the profession. The learning was not extensive or
profound, but practical knowledge, sound principles, and shrewd management
were conspicuous. Jeremiah Smith, the Chief Justice, a man of humor and
cultivation, was a well read and able judge; George Sullivan was ready of
speech and fertile in expedients; and Parsons and Dexter of Massachusetts,
both men of national reputation, appeared from time to time in the New
Hampshire courts. Among the most eminent was William Plumer, then Senator,
and afterwards Governor of the State, a well-trained, clear-headed,
judicious man. He was one of Mr. Webster's early antagonists, and defeated
him in their first encounter. Yet at the same time, although a leader of
the bar and a United States Senator, he seems to have been oppressed with a
sense of responsibility and even of inequality by this thin, black-eyed
young lawyer from the back country. Mr. Plumer was a man of cool and
excellent judgment, and he thought that Mr. Webster on this occasion was
too excursive and declamatory. He also deemed him better fitted by mind and
temperament for politics than for the law, an opinion fully justified in
the future, despite Mr. Webster's eminence at the bar. In another case,
where they were opposed, Mr. Plumer quoted a passage from Peake's "Law of
Evidence." Mr. Webster criticised the citation as bad law, pronounced the
book a miserable two-penny compilation, and then, throwing it down with a
fine disdain, said, "So much for Mr. Thomas Peake's compendium of the 'Law
of Evidence.'" Such was his manner that every one present appeared to think
the point settled, and felt rather ashamed of ever having heard of Mr.
Peake or his unfortunate book. Thereupon Mr. Plumer produced a volume of
reports by which it appeared that the despised passage was taken word for
word from one of Lord Mansfield's decisions. The wretched Peake's character
was rehabilitated, and Mr. Webster silenced. This was an illustration of a
failing of Mr. Webster at that time. He was rough and unceremonious, and
even overbearing, both to court and bar, the natural result of a new sense
of power in an inexperienced man. This harshness of manner, however, soon
disappeared. He learned rapidly to practise the stately and solemn courtesy
which distinguished him through life.

There was one lawyer, however, at the head of his profession in New
Hampshire, who had more effect upon Mr. Webster than any other whom he ever
met there or elsewhere. This was the man to whom the Shaker said: "By thy
size and thy language[1] I judge that thou art Jeremiah Mason." Mr. Mason
was one of the greatest common-lawyers this country has ever produced. Keen
and penetrating in intellect, he was master of a relentless logic and of a
style which, though simple and homely, was clear and correct to the last
point. Slow and deliberate in his movements, and sententious in his
utterances, he dealt so powerfully with evidence and so lucidly with
principles of law that he rarely failed to carry conviction to his hearers.
He was particularly renowned for his success in getting verdicts. Many
years afterwards Mr. Webster gave it as his deliberate opinion that he had
never met with a stronger intellect, a mind of more native resources or
quicker and deeper vision than were possessed by Mr. Mason, whom in mental
reach and grasp and in closeness of reasoning he would not allow to be
second even to Chief Justice Marshall. Mr. Mason on his side, with his
usual sagacity, at once detected the great talents of Mr. Webster. In the
first case where they were opposed, a murder trial, Mr. Webster took the
place of the Attorney-General for the prosecution. Mr. Mason, speaking of
the impression made by his youthful and then unknown opponent, said:--

     "He broke upon me like a thunder shower in July, sudden,
     portentous, sweeping all before it. It was the first case in which
     he appeared at our bar; a criminal prosecution in which I had
     arranged a very pretty defence, as against the Attorney-General,
     Atkinson, who was able enough in his way, but whom I knew very well
     how to take. Atkinson being absent, Webster conducted the case for
     him, and turned, in the most masterly manner, the line of my
     defences, carrying with him all but one of the jurors, so that I
     barely saved my client by my best exertions. I was nevermore
     surprised than by this remarkable exhibition of unexpected power.
     It surpassed, in some respects, anything which I have ever since
     seen even in him."

[Footnote 1: Mr. Mason, as is well known, was six feet seven inches in
height, and his language, always very forcible and direct, was, when he was
irritated, if we may trust tradition, at times somewhat profane.]

With all his admiration for his young antagonist, however, one cannot help
noticing that the generous and modest but astute counsel for the defence
ended by winning his case.

Fortune showered many favors upon Mr. Webster, but none more valuable than
that of having Jeremiah Mason as his chief opponent at the New Hampshire
bar. Mr. Mason had no spark of envy in his composition. He not only
regarded with pleasure the great abilities of Mr. Webster, but he watched
with kindly interest the rapid rise which soon made this stranger from the
country his principal competitor and the champion commonly chosen to meet
him in the courts. He gave Mr. Webster his friendship, staunch and
unvarying, until his death; he gave freely also of his wisdom and
experience in advice and counsel. Best of all was the opportunity of
instruction and discipline which Mr. Webster gained by repeated contests
with such a man. The strong qualities of Mr. Webster's mind rapidly
developed by constant practice and under such influences. He showed more
and more in every case his wonderful instinct for seizing on the very heart
of a question, and for extricating the essential points from the midst of
confused details and clashing arguments. He displayed, too, more strongly
every day his capacity for close, logical reasoning and for telling retort,
backed by a passion and energy none the less effective from being but
slowly called into activity. In a word, the unequalled power of stating
facts or principles, which was the predominant quality of Mr. Webster's
genius, grew steadily with a vigorous vitality while his eloquence
developed in a similar striking fashion. Much of this growth and
improvement was due to the sharp competition and bright example of Mr.
Mason. But the best lesson that Mr. Webster learned from his wary yet
daring antagonist was in regard to style. When he saw Mr. Mason go close to
the jury box, and in a plain style and conversational manner, force
conviction upon his hearers, and carry off verdict after verdict, Mr.
Webster felt as he had never done before the defects of his own modes of
expression. His florid phrases looked rather mean, insincere, and
tasteless, besides being weak and ineffective. From that time he began to
study simplicity and directness, which ended in the perfection of a style
unsurpassed in modern oratory. The years of Mr. Webster's professional life
in Portsmouth under the tuition of Mr. Mason were of inestimable service to

Early in this period, also, Mr. Webster gave up his bachelor existence, and
made for himself a home. When he first appeared at church in Portsmouth the
minister's daughter noted and remembered his striking features and look,
and regarded him as one with great capacities for good or evil. But the
interesting stranger was not destined to fall a victim to any of the young
ladies of Portsmouth. In the spring of 1808 he slipped away from his new
friends and returned to Salisbury, where, in May, he was married. The bride
he brought back to Portsmouth was Grace Fletcher, daughter of the minister
of Hopkinton. Mr. Webster is said to have seen her first at church in
Salisbury, whither she came on horseback in a tight-fitting black velvet
dress, and looking, as he said, "like an angel." She was certainly a very
lovely and charming woman, of delicate and refined sensibilities and bright
and sympathetic mind. She was a devoted wife, the object of her husband's
first and strongest love, and the mother of his children. It is very
pleasant to look at Mr. Webster in his home during these early years of his
married life. It was a happy, innocent, untroubled time. He was advancing
in his profession, winning fame and respect, earning a sufficient income,
blessed in his domestic relations, and with his children growing up about
him. He was social by nature, and very popular everywhere. Genial and
affectionate in disposition, he attached everybody to him, and his hearty
humor, love of mimicry, and fund of anecdote made him a delightful
companion, and led Mr. Mason to say that the stage had lost a great actor
in Webster.

But while he was thus enjoying professional success and the contented
happiness of his fireside, he was slowly but surely drifting into the
current of politics, whither his genius led him, and which had for him an
irresistible attraction. Mr. Webster took both his politics and his
religion from his father, and does not appear to have questioned either. He
had a peculiarly conservative cast of mind. In an age of revolution and
scepticism he showed no trace of the questioning spirit which then
prevailed. Even in his earliest years he was a firm believer in existing
institutions, in what was fixed and established. He had a little of the
disposition of Lord Thurlow, who, when asked by a dissenter why, being a
notorious free-thinker, he so ardently supported the Established Church,
replied: "I support the Church of England because it is established.
Establish your religion, and I'll support that." But if Mr. Webster took
his religion and politics from his father in an unquestioning spirit, he
accepted them in a mild form. He was a liberal Federalist because he had a
wide mental vision, and by nature took broad views of everything. His
father, on the other hand, was a rigid, intolerant Federalist of a
thorough-going Puritan type. Being taken ill once in a town of Democratic
proclivities, he begged to be carried home. "I was born a Federalist," he
said, "I have lived a Federalist, and I won't die in a Democratic town." In
the same way Ezekiel Webster's uncompromising Federalism shut him out from
political preferment, and he would never modify his principles one jot in
order to gain the seat in Congress which he might easily have obtained by
slight concessions. The broad and liberal spirit of Daniel Webster rose
superior to the rigid and even narrow opinions of his father and brother,
but perhaps it would have been better for him if he had had in addition to
his splendid mind the stern, unbending force of character which made his
father and brother stand by their principles with immovable Puritan
determination. Liberal as he was, however, in his political opinions, the
same conservative spirit which led him to adopt his creed made him sustain
it faithfully and constantly when he had once accepted it. He was a steady
and trusted party man, although neither then nor at any time a blind,
unreasoning partisan.

Mr. Webster came forward gradually as a political leader by occasional
addresses and speeches, at first with long intervals between them, and then
becoming more frequent, until at last he found himself fairly engaged in a
public career. In 1804, at the request of some of his father's friends, he
published a pamphlet, entitled, "An Appeal to Old Whigs," in the interest
of Gilman, the Federal candidate for governor. He seems to have had a very
poor opinion of this performance, and his interest in the success of the
party at that juncture was very slight. In 1805 he delivered a Fourth of
July oration at Salisbury, which has not been preserved; and in the
following year he gave another before the "Federal gentlemen" of Concord,
which was published. The tone of this speech is not very partisan, nor does
it exhibit the bitter spirit of the Federalists, although he attacked the
administration, was violent in urging the protection of commerce, and was
extremely savage in his remarks about France. At times the style is
forcible, and even rich, but, as a rule, it is still strained and
artificial. The oration begins eagerly with an appeal for the Constitution
and the Republic, the ideas always uppermost in Mr. Webster's mind. As a
whole, it shows a distinct improvement in form, but there are no marks of
genius to raise it above the ordinary level of Fourth of July speeches. His
next production was a little pamphlet, published in 1808, on the embargo,
which was then paralyzing New England, and crushing out her prosperity.
This essay is important because it is the first clear instance of that
wonderful faculty which Mr. Webster had of seizing on the vital point of a
subject, and bringing it out in such a way that everybody could see and
understand it. In this case the point was the distinction between a
temporary embargo and one of unlimited duration. Mr. Webster contended that
the latter was unconstitutional. The great mischief of the embargo was in
Jefferson's concealed intention that it should be unlimited in point of
time, a piece of recklessness and deceit never fully appreciated until it
had all passed into history. This Mr. Webster detected and brought out as
the most illegal and dangerous feature of the measure, while he also
discussed the general policy in its fullest extent. In 1809 he spoke before
the Phi Beta Kappa Society, upon "The State of our Literature," an address
without especial interest except as showing a very marked improvement in
style, due, no doubt, to the influence of Mr. Mason.

During the next three years Mr. Webster was completely absorbed in the
practice of his profession, and not until the declaration of war with
England had stirred and agitated the whole country did he again come before
the public. The occasion of his reappearance was the Fourth of July
celebration in 1812, when he addressed the Washington Benevolent Society at
Portsmouth. The speech was a strong, calm statement of the grounds of
opposition to the war. He showed that "maritime defence, commercial
regulations, and national revenue" were the very corner-stones of the
Constitution, and that these great interests had been crippled and abused
by the departure from Washington's policy. He developed, with great force,
the principal and the most unanswerable argument of his party, that the
navy had been neglected and decried because it was a Federalist scheme,
when a navy was what we wanted above all things, and especially when we
were drifting into a maritime conflict. He argued strongly in favor of a
naval war, and measures of naval defence, instead of wasting our resources
by an invasion of Canada. So far he went strictly with his party, merely
invigorating and enforcing their well-known principles. But when he came to
defining the proper limits of opposition to the war he modified very
essentially the course prescribed by advanced Federalist opinions. The
majority of that party in New England were prepared to go to the very edge
of the narrow legal line which divides constitutional opposition from
treasonable resistance. They were violent, bitter, and uncompromising in
their language and purposes. From this Mr. Webster was saved by his breadth
of view, his clear perceptions, and his intense national feeling. He says
on this point:--

     "With respect to the war in which we are now involved, the course
     which our principles require us to pursue cannot be doubtful. It is
     now the law of the land, and as such we are bound to regard it.
     Resistance and insurrection form no part of our creed. The
     disciples of Washington are neither tyrants in power nor rebels
     out. If we are taxed to carry on this war we shall disregard
     certain distinguished examples and shall pay. If our personal
     services are required we shall yield them to the precise extent of
     our constitutional liability. At the same time the world may be
     assured that we know our rights and shall exercise them. We shall
     express our opinions on this, as on every measure of the
     government,--I trust without passion, I am certain without fear. By
     the exercise of our constitutional right of suffrage, by the
     peaceable remedy of election, we shall seek to restore wisdom to
     our councils, and peace to our country."

This was a sensible and patriotic opposition. It represented the views of
the moderate Federalists, and traced the lines which Mr. Webster
consistently followed during the first years of his public life. The
address concluded by pointing out the French trickery which had provoked
the war, and by denouncing an alliance with French despotism and ambition.

This oration was printed, and ran at once through two editions. It led to
the selection of Mr. Webster as a delegate to an assembly of the people of
the county of Rockingham, a sort of mass convention, held in August, 1812.
There he was placed on the committee to prepare the address, and was chosen
to write their report, which was adopted and published. This important
document, widely known at the time as the "Rockingham Memorial," was a
careful argument against the war, and a vigorous and able presentation of
the Federalist views. It was addressed to the President, whom it treated
with respectful severity. With much skill it turned Mr. Madison's own
arguments against himself, and appealed to public opinion by its clear and
convincing reasoning. In one point the memorial differed curiously from the
oration of a month before. The latter pointed to the suffrage as the mode
of redress; the former distinctly hinted at and almost threatened secession
even while it deplored a dissolution of the Union as a possible result of
the administration's policy. In the one case Mr. Webster was expressing his
own views, in the other he was giving utterance to the opinions of the
members of his party among whom he stood. This little incident shows the
susceptibility to outside influences which formed such an odd trait in the
character of a man so imperious by nature. When acting alone, he spoke his
own opinions. When in a situation where public opinion was concentrated
against him, he submitted to modifications of his views with a curious and
indolent indifference.

The immediate result to Mr. Webster of the ability and tact which he
displayed at the Rockingham Convention was his election to the thirteenth
Congress, where he took his seat in May, 1813. There were then many able
men in the House. Mr. Clay was Speaker, and on the floor were John C.
Calhoun, Langdon Cheves and William Lowndes of South Carolina, Forsyth and
Troup of Georgia, Ingersoll of Pennsylvania, Grundy of Tennessee, and
McLean of Ohio, all conspicuous in the young nationalist war party. Macon
and Eppes were representatives of the old Jeffersonian Republicans, while
the Federalists were strong in the possession of such leaders as Pickering
of Massachusetts, Pitkin of Connecticut, Grosvenor and Benson of New York,
Hanson of Maryland, and William Gaston of North Carolina. It was a House in
which any one might have been glad to win distinction. That Mr. Webster was
considered, at the outset, to be a man of great promise is shown by the
fact that he was placed on the Committee on Foreign Relations, of which Mr.
Calhoun was the head, and which, in the war time, was the most important
committee of the House.

Mr. Webster's first act was a characteristic one. Early in June he
introduced a set of resolutions calling upon the President for information
as to the time and mode in which the repeal of the French decrees had been
communicated to our government. His unerring sagacity in singling out the
weak point in his enemy's armor and in choosing his own keenest weapon, was
never better illustrated than on this occasion. We know now that in the
negotiations for the repeal of the decrees, the French government tricked
us into war with England by most profligate lying. It was apparent then
that there was something wrong, and that either our government had been
deceived, or had withheld the publication of the repealing decree until war
was declared, so that England might not have a pretext for rescinding the
obnoxious orders. Either horn of the dilemma, therefore, was disagreeable
to the administration, and a disclosure could hardly fail to benefit the
Federalists. Mr. Webster supported his resolutions with a terse and simple
speech of explanation, so far as we can judge from the meagre abstract
which has come down to us. The resolutions, however, were a firebrand, and
lighted up an angry and protracted debate, but the ruling party, as Mr.
Webster probably foresaw, did not dare to vote them down, and they passed
by large majorities. Mr. Webster spoke but once, and then very briefly,
during the progress of the debate, and soon after returned to New
Hampshire. With the exception of these resolutions, he took no active part
whatever in the business of the House beyond voting steadily with his
party, a fact of which we may be sure because he was always on the same
side as that staunch old partisan, Timothy Pickering.

After a summer passed in the performance of his professional duties, Mr.
Webster returned to Washington. He was late in his coming, Congress having
been in session nearly three weeks when he arrived to find that he had been
dropped from the Committee on Foreign Relations. The dominant party
probably discovered that he was a young man of rather too much promise and
too formidable an opponent for such an important post. His resolutions had
been answered at the previous session, after his departure, and the report,
which consisted of a lame explanation of the main point, and an elaborate
defence of the war, had been quietly laid aside. Mr. Webster desired debate
on this subject, and succeeded in carrying a reference of the report to a
committee of the whole, but his opponents prevented its ever coming to
discussion. In the long session which ensued, Mr. Webster again took
comparatively little part in general business, but he spoke oftener than
before. He seems to have been reserving his strength and making sure of his
ground. He defended the Federalists as the true friends of the navy, and he
resisted with great power the extravagant attempt to extend martial law to
all citizens suspected of treason. On January 14, 1814, he made a long and
well reported speech against a bill to encourage enlistments. This is the
first example of the eloquence which Mr. Webster afterwards carried to such
high perfection. Some of his subsequent speeches far surpass this one, but
they differ from it in degree, not in kind. He was now master of the style
at which he aimed. The vehicle was perfected and his natural talent gave
that vehicle abundance of thought to be conveyed. The whole speech is
simple in form, direct and forcible. It has the elasticity and vigor of
great strength, and glows with eloquence in some passages. Here, too, we
see for the first time that power of deliberate and measured sarcasm which
was destined to become in his hands such a formidable weapon. The florid
rhetoric of the early days is utterly gone, and the thought comes to us in
those short and pregnant sentences and in the choice and effective words
which were afterwards so typical of the speaker. The speech itself was a
party speech and a presentation of party arguments. It offered nothing new,
but the familiar principles had hardly ever been stated in such a striking
and impressive fashion. Mr. Webster attacked the war policy and the conduct
of the war, and advocated defensive warfare, a navy, and the abandonment of
the restrictive laws that were ruining our commerce, which had been the
main cause of the adoption of the Constitution. The conclusion of this
speech is not far from the level of Mr. Webster's best work. It is too long
for quotation, but a few sentences will show its quality:--

     "Give up your futile projects of invasion. Extinguish the fires
     that blaze on your inland frontier. Establish perfect safety and
     defence there by adequate force. Let every man that sleeps on your
     soil sleep in security. Stop the blood that flows from the veins of
     unarmed yeomanry and women and children. Give to the living time to
     bury and lament their dead in the quietness of private sorrow.
     Having performed this work of beneficence and mercy on your inland
     border, turn, and look with the eye of justice and compassion on
     your vast population along the coast. Unclench the iron grasp of
     your embargo. Take measures for that end before another sun
     sets.... Let it no longer be said that not one ship of force, built
     by your hands, yet floats upon the ocean.... If then the war must
     be continued, go to the ocean. If you are seriously contending for
     maritime rights, go to the theatre where alone those rights can be
     defended. Thither every indication of your fortune points you.
     There the united wishes and exertions of the nation will go with
     you. Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at
     the water's edge."

Events soon forced the policy urged by Mr. Webster upon the administration,
whose friends carried first a modification of the embargo, and before the
close of the session introduced a bill for its total repeal. The difficult
task of advocating this measure devolved upon Mr. Calhoun, who sustained
his cause more ingeniously than ingenuously. He frankly admitted that
restriction was a failure as a war measure, but he defended the repeal on
the ground that the condition of affairs in Europe had changed since the
restrictive policy was adopted. It had indeed changed since the embargo of
1807, but not since the imposition of that of 1813, which was the one under

Mr. Calhoun laid himself open to most unmerciful retorts, which was his
misfortune, not his fault, for the embargo had been utterly and hopelessly
wrong from the beginning. Mr. Webster, however, took full advantage of the
opportunity thus presented. His opening congratulations are in his best
vein of stately sarcasm, and are admirably put. He followed this up by a
new argument of great force, showing the colonial spirit of the restrictive
policy. He also dwelt with fresh vigor on the identification with France
necessitated by the restrictive laws, a reproach which stung Mr. Calhoun
and his followers more than anything else. He then took up the embargo
policy and tore it to pieces,--no very difficult undertaking, but well
performed. The shifty and shifting policy of the government was especially
distasteful to Mr. Webster, with his lofty conception of consistent and
steady statesmanship, a point which is well brought out in the following

     "In a commercial country, nothing can be more objectionable than
     frequent and violent changes. The concerns of private business do
     not endure such rude shocks but with extreme inconvenience and
     great loss. It would seem, however, that there is a class of
     politicians to whose taste all change is suited, to whom whatever
     is unnatural seems wise, and all that is violent appears great....
     The Embargo Act, the Non-Importation Act, and all the crowd of
     additions and supplements, together with all their garniture of
     messages, reports, and resolutions, are tumbling undistinguished
     into one common grave. But yesterday this policy had a thousand
     friends and supporters; to-day it is fallen and prostrate, and few
     'so poor as to do it reverence.' Sir, a government which cannot
     administer the affairs of a nation without so frequent and such
     violent alterations in the ordinary occupations and pursuits of
     private life, has, in my opinion, little claim to the regard of the

All this is very characteristic of Mr. Webster's temperament in dealing
with public affairs, and is a very good example of his power of dignified
reproach and condemnation.

Mr. Calhoun had said at the close of his speech, that the repeal of the
restrictive measures should not be allowed to affect the double duties
which protected manufactures. Mr. Webster discussed this point at length,
defining his own position, which was that of the New England Federalists,
who believed in free trade as an abstract principle, and considered
protection only as an expedient of which they wanted as little as possible.
Mr. Webster set forth these views in his usual effective and lucid manner,
but they can be considered more fitly at the period when he dealt with the
tariff as a leading issue of the day and of his own public life.

Mr. Webster took no further action of importance at this session, not even
participating in the great debate on the loan bill; but, by the manner in
which these two speeches were referred to and quoted in Congress for many
days after they were delivered, we can perceive the depth of their first
impression. I have dwelt upon them at length because they are not in the
collected edition of his speeches, where they well deserve a place, and,
still more, because they are the first examples of his parliamentary
eloquence which show his characteristic qualities and the action of his
mind. Mr. Webster was a man of slow growth, not reaching his highest point
until he was nearly fifty years of age, but these two speeches mark an
advanced stage in his progress. The only fresh point that he made was when
he declared that the embargo was colonial in spirit; and this thought
proceeded from the vital principle of Mr. Webster's public life, his
intense love for nationality and union, which grew with his growth and
strengthened with his strength. In other respects, these speeches presented
simply the arguments and opinions of his party. They fell upon the ear of
Congress and the country with a new and ringing sound because they were
stated so finely and with such simplicity. Certainly one of them, and
probably both, were delivered without any immediate preparation, but they
really had the preparation of years, and were the utterance of thoughts
which had been garnered up by long meditation. He wisely confined himself
at this time to a subject which had been long before his mind, and upon
which he had gathered all the essential points by observation and by a
study of the multitude of speeches and essays with which the country had
been deluged. These early speeches, like some of the best of his prime,
although nominally unprepared, were poured forth from the overflowing
resources which had been the fruit of months of reflection, and which had
been stored up by an unyielding memory. They had really been in preparation
ever since the embargo pamphlet of 1808, and that was one reason for their
ripeness and terseness, for their easy flow and condensed force. I have
examined with care the debates in that Congress. There were many able and
experienced speakers on the floor. Mr. Clay, it is true, took no part, and
early in the session went to Europe. But Mr. Calhoun led in debate, and
there were many others second only to him. Among all the speeches, however,
Mr. Webster's stand out in sharp relief. His utterances were as clear and
direct as those of Mr. Calhoun, but they had none of the South Carolinian's
dryness. We can best judge of their merit and their effect by comparing
them with those of his associates. They were not only forcible, but they
were vivid also and full of life, and his words when he was roused fell
like the blows of a hammer on an anvil. They lacked the polish and richness
of his later efforts, but the force and power of statement and the purity
of diction were all there, and men began to realize that one destined to
great achievements had entered the field of American politics.

This was very apparent when Mr. Webster came back to Washington for the
extra session called in September, 1814. Although he had made previously
but two set speeches, and had taken comparatively little part in every-day
debate, he was now acknowledged, after his few months of service, to be one
of the foremost men in the House, and the strongest leader in his party. He
differed somewhat at this time from the prevailing sentiment of the
Federalists in New England, for the guiding principle of his life, his love
of nationality, overrode all other influences. He discountenanced the
measures which led to the Hartford Convention, and he helped to keep New
Hampshire out of that movement; but it is an entire mistake to represent
him as an independent Federalist at this period. The days of Mr. Webster's
independent politics came later, when the Federalists had ceased to exist
as a party and when no new ties had been formed. In the winter of 1814 and
1815, although, like many of the moderate Federalists, he disapproved of
the separatist movement in New England, on all other party questions he
acted consistently with the straitest of the sect. Sensibly enough, he did
not consider the convention at Hartford, although he had nothing to do with
it, either treasonable or seditious; and yet, much as he disliked its
supposed purposes, he did not hesitate, in a speech on the Enlistment Bill,
to use them as a threat to deter the administration from war measures. This
was a favorite Federalist practice, gloomily to point out at this time the
gathering clouds of domestic strife, in order to turn the administration
back from war, that poor frightened administration of Mr. Madison, which
had for months been clutching frantically at every straw which seemed to
promise a chance of peace.

But although Mr. Webster went as steadily and even more strongly with his
party in this session, he did more and better service than ever before,
partly, perhaps, because on the questions which arose, his party was, in
the main, entirely right. The strength of his party feeling is shown by his
attitude in regard to the war taxes, upon which he made a quiet but
effective speech. He took the ground that, as a member of the minority, he
could not prevent the taxes nor stop hostilities, but he could protest
against the war, its conduct, and its authors, by voting against the taxes.
There is a nice question of political ethics here as to how far an
opposition ought to go in time of national war and distress, but it is
certainly impossible to give a more extreme expression to parliamentary
opposition than to refuse the supplies at a most critical moment in a
severe conflict. To this last extreme of party opposition to the
administration, Mr. Webster went. It was as far as he could go and remain
loyal to the Union. But there he stopped absolutely. With the next step,
which went outside the Union, and which his friends at home were
considering, he would have nothing to do, and he would not countenance any
separatist schemes. In the national Congress, however, he was prepared to
advance as far as the boldest and bitterest in opposition, and he either
voted against the war taxes or abstained from voting on them, in company
with the strictest partisans of the Pickering type.

There is no need to suppose from this that Mr. Webster had lost in the
least the liberality or breadth of view which always characterized him. He
was no narrower then than when he entered Congress, or than when he left
it. He went with his party because he believed it to be right,--as at that
moment it undoubtedly was. The party, however, was still extreme and
bitter, as it had been for ten years, but Mr. Webster was neither. He went
all lengths with his friends in Congress, but he did not share their
intensity of feeling or their fierce hostility to individuals. The
Federalists, for instance, as a rule had ceased to call upon Mr. Madison,
but in such intolerance Mr. Webster declined to indulge. He was always on
good terms with the President and with all the hostile leaders. His
opposition was extreme in principle, but not in manner; it was vigorous and
uncompromising, but also stately and dignified. It was part of his large
and indolent nature to accept much and question little; to take the ideas
most easy and natural to him, those of his friends and associates, and of
his native New England, without needless inquiry and investigation. It was
part of the same nature, also, to hold liberal views after he had fairly
taken sides, and never, by confounding individuals with principles and
purposes, to import into politics the fiery, biting element of personal
hatred and malice.

His position in the House once assured, we find Mr. Webster taking a much
more active part in the daily debates than before. On these occasions we
hear of his "deliberate, conversational" manner, another of the lessons
learned from Mr. Mason when that gentleman, standing so close to the
jury-box that he could have "laid his finger on the foreman's nose," as Mr.
Webster said, chatted easily with each juryman, and won a succession of
verdicts. But besides the daily debate, Mr. Webster spoke at length on
several important occasions. This was the case with the Enlistment Bill,
which involved a forced draft, including minors, and was deemed
unconstitutional by the Federalists. Mr. Webster had "a hand," as he puts
it,--a strong one, we may be sure,--in killing "Mr. Monroe's conscription."

The most important measure, however, with which Mr. Webster was called to
deal, and to which he gave his best efforts, was the attempt to establish a
national bank. There were three parties in the House on this question. The
first represented the "old Republican" doctrines, and was opposed to any
bank. The second represented the theories of Hamilton and the Federalists,
and favored a bank with a reasonable capital, specie-paying, and free to
decide about making loans to the government. The third body was composed of
members of the national war-party, who were eager for a bank merely to help
the government out of its appalling difficulties. They, therefore, favored
an institution of large capital, non-specie-paying, and obliged to make
heavy loans to the government, which involved, of course, an irredeemable
paper currency. In a word, there was the party of no bank, the party of a
specie bank, and the party of a huge paper-money bank. The second of these
parties, with which of course Mr. Webster acted, held the key of the
situation. No bank could be established unless it was based on their
principles. The first bill, proposing a paper-money bank, originated in the
House, and was killed there by a strong majority, Mr. Webster making a long
speech against it which has not been preserved. The next bill came from the
Senate, and was also for a paper-money bank. Against this scheme Mr.
Webster made a second elaborate speech, which is reprinted in his works.
His genius for arranging and stating facts held its full strength in
questions of finance, and he now established his reputation as a master in
that difficult department of statesmanship. His recent studies of
economical questions in late English works and in English history gave
freshness to what he said, and in clearness of argument, in range of view,
and wisdom of judgment, he showed himself a worthy disciple of the school
of Hamilton. His argument proceeded on the truest economical and commercial
principles, and was, indeed, unanswerable. He then took his stand as the
foe of irredeemable paper, whether in war or peace, and of wild,
unrestrained banking, a position from which he never wavered, and in
support of which he rendered to the country some of his best service as a
public man. The bill was defeated by the casting vote of the Speaker. When
the result was announced, Mr. Calhoun was utterly overwhelmed. He cared
little for the bank but deeply for the government, which, as it was not
known that peace had been made, seemed to be on the verge of ruin. He came
over to Mr. Webster, and, bursting into tears, begged the latter to aid in
establishing a proper bank, a request which was freely granted.

The vote was then reconsidered, the bill recommitted and brought back, with
a reduced capital, and freed from the government power to force loans and
suspend specie payments. This measure was passed by a large majority,
composed of the Federalists and the friends of the government, but it was
the plan of the former which had prevailed. The President vetoed the bill
for a variety of reasons, duly stated, but really, as Mr. Webster said,
because a sound bank of this sort was not in favor with the administration.
Another paper-money scheme was introduced, and the conflict began again,
but was abruptly terminated by the news of peace, and on March 4 the
thirteenth Congress came to an end.

The fourteenth Congress, to which he had been reëlected, Mr. Webster said
many years afterward, was the most remarkable for talents of any he had
ever seen. To the leaders of marked ability in the previous Congress, most
of whom had been reëlected, several others were added. Mr. Clay returned
from Europe to take again an active part. Mr. Pinkney, the most eminent
practising lawyer in the country, recently Attorney-General and Minister to
England, whom John Randolph, with characteristic insolence, "believed to be
from Maryland," was there until his appointment to the Russian mission.
Last, but not least, there was John Randolph himself, wildly eccentric and
venomously eloquent,--sometimes witty, always odd and amusing, talking
incessantly on everything, so that the reporters gave him up in despair,
and with whom Mr. Webster came to a definite understanding before the close
of the session.

Mr. Webster did not take his seat until February, being detained at the
North by the illness of his daughter Grace. When he arrived he found
Congress at work upon a bank bill possessing the same objectionable
features of paper money and large capital as the former schemes which he
had helped to overthrow. He began his attack upon this dangerous plan by
considering the evil condition of the currency. He showed that the currency
of the United States was sound because it was gold and silver, in his
opinion the only constitutional medium, but that the country was flooded by
the irredeemable paper of the state banks. Congress could not regulate the
state banks, but they could force them to specie payments by refusing to
receive any notes which were not paid in specie by the bank which issued
them. Passing to the proposed national bank, he reiterated the able
arguments which he had made in the previous Congress against the large
capital, the power to suspend specie payments, and the stock feature of the
bank, which he thought would lead to speculation and control by the state
banks. This last point is the first instance of that financial foresight
for which Mr. Webster was so remarkable, and which shows so plainly the
soundness of his knowledge in regard to economical matters. A violent
speculation in bank stock did ensue, and the first years of the new
institution were troubled, disorderly, and anything but creditable. The
opposition of Mr. Webster and those who thought with him, resulted in the
reduction of the capital and the removal of the power to suspend specie
payments. But although shorn of its most obnoxious features, Mr. Webster
voted against the bill on its final passage on account of the participation
permitted to the government in its management. He was quite right, but,
after the bank was well established, he supported it as Lord Thurlow
promised to do in regard to the dissenter's religion. Indeed, Mr. Webster
ultimately so far lost his original dislike to this bank that he became one
of its warmest adherents. The plan was defective, but the scheme, on the
whole, worked better than had been expected.

Immediately after the passage of the bank bill, Mr. Calhoun introduced a
bill requiring the revenue to be collected in lawful money of the United
States. A sharp debate ensued, and the bill was lost. Mr. Webster at once
offered resolutions requiring all government dues to be paid in coin, in
Treasury notes, or in notes of the Bank of the United States. He supported
these resolutions, thus daringly put forward just after the principle they
involved had been voted down, in a speech of singular power, clear,
convincing, and full of information and illustration. He elaborated the
ideas contained in his previous remarks on the currency, displaying with
great force the evils of irredeemable paper, and the absolute necessity of
a sound currency based on specie payments. He won a signal victory by the
passage of his resolutions, which brought about resumption, and, after the
bank was firmly established, gave us a sound currency and a safe medium of
exchange. This was one of the most conspicuous services ever rendered by
Mr. Webster to the business interests and good government of the country,
and he deserves the full credit, for he triumphed where Mr. Calhoun had
just been defeated.

Mr. Webster took more or less part in all the questions which afterwards
arose in the House, especially on the tariff, but his great efforts were
those devoted to the bank and the currency. The only other incident of the
session was an invitation to fight a duel sent him by John Randolph. This
was the only challenge ever received by Mr. Webster. He never could have
seemed a very happy subject for such missives, and, moreover, he never
indulged in language calculated to provoke them. Randolph, however, would
have challenged anybody or anything, from Henry Clay to a field-mouse, if
the fancy happened to strike him. Mr. Webster's reply is a model of dignity
and veiled contempt. He refused to admit Randolph's right to an
explanation, alluded to that gentleman's lack of courtesy in the House,
denied his right to call him out, and wound up by saying that he did not
feel bound to risk his life at any one's bidding, but should "always be
prepared to repel, in a suitable manner, the aggression of any man who may
presume on this refusal." One cannot help smiling over this last clause,
with its suggestion of personal violence, as the two men rise before the
fancy,--the big, swarthy black-haired son of the northern hills, with his
robust common sense, and the sallow, lean, sickly Virginia planter, not
many degrees removed mentally from the patients in Bedlam.

In the affairs of the next session of the fourteenth Congress Mr. Webster
took scarcely any part. He voted for Mr. Calhoun's internal improvement
bill, although without entering the debate, and he also voted to pass the
bill over Mr. Madison's veto. This was sound Hamiltonian Federalism, and in
entire consonance with the national sentiments of Mr. Webster. On the
constitutional point, which he is said to have examined with some care, he
decided in accordance with the opinions of his party, and with the doctrine
of liberal construction, to which he always adhered.

On March 4, 1817, the fourteenth Congress expired, and with it the term of
Mr. Webster's service. Five years were to intervene before he again
appeared in the arena of national politics. This retirement from active
public life was due to professional reasons. In nine years Mr. Webster had
attained to the very summit of his profession in New Hampshire. He was
earning two thousand dollars a year, and in that hardy and poor community
he could not hope to earn more. To a man with such great and productive
talents, and with a growing family, a larger field had become an absolute
necessity. In June, 1816, therefore, Mr. Webster removed from Portsmouth to
Boston. That he gained by the change is apparent from the fact that the
first year after his removal his professional income did not fall short of
twenty thousand dollars. The first suggestion of the possibilities of
wealth offered to his abilities in a suitable field came from his going to
Washington. There, in the winter of 1813 and 1814, he was admitted to the
bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, before which he tried two or
three cases, and this opened the vista of a professional career, which he
felt would give him verge and room enough, as well as fit remuneration.
From this beginning the Supreme Court practice, which soon led to the
removal to Boston, rapidly increased, until, in the last session of his
term, it occupied most of his time. This withdrawal from the duties of
Congress, however, was not due to a sacrifice of his time to his
professional engagements, but to the depression caused by his first great
grief, which must have rendered the noise and dust of debate most
distasteful to him. Mr. and Mrs. Webster had arrived in Washington for this
last session, in December, 1816, and were recalled to Boston by the illness
of their little daughter Grace, who was their oldest child, singularly
bright and precocious, with much of her father's look and talent, and of
her mother's sensibility. She was a favorite with her father, and tenderly
beloved by him. After her parents' return she sank rapidly, the victim of
consumption. When the last hour was at hand, the child, rousing from sleep,
asked for her father. He came, raised her upon his arm, and, as he did so,
she smiled upon him and died. It is a little incident in the life of a
great man, but a child's instinct does not err at such a moment, and her
dying smile sheds a flood of soft light upon the deep and warm affections
of Mr. Webster's solemn and reserved nature. It was the first great grief.
Mr. Webster wept convulsively as he stood beside the dead, and those who
saw that stately creature so wrung by anguish of the heart never forgot the

Thus the period which began at Portsmouth in 1807 closed in Boston, in
1817, with the death of the eldest born. In that decade Mr. Webster had
advanced with great strides from the position of a raw and youthful lawyer
in a back country town of New Hampshire. He had reached the highest
professional eminence in his own State, and had removed to a wider sphere,
where he at once took rank with the best lawyers. He was a leading
practitioner in the highest national court. During his two terms in
Congress he had become a leader of his party, and had won a solid national
reputation. In those years he had rendered conspicuous service to the
business interests of the nation, and had established himself as one of the
ablest statesmen of the country in matters of finance. He had defined his
position on the tariff as a free-trader in theory and a very moderate
protectionist when protection was unavoidable, a true representative of the
doctrine of the New England Federalists. He had taken up his ground as the
champion of specie payments and of the liberal interpretation of the
Constitution, which authorized internal improvements. While he had not
shrunk from extreme opposition to the administration during the war, he had
kept himself entirely clear from the separatist sentiment of New England in
the year 1814. He left Congress with a realizing sense of his own growing
powers, and, rejoicing in his strength, he turned to his profession and to
his new duties in his new home.



There is a vague tradition that when Mr. Webster took up his residence in
Boston, some of the worthies of that ancient Puritan town were disposed at
first to treat him rather cavalierly and make him understand that because
he was great in New Hampshire it did not follow that he was also great in
Massachusetts. They found very quickly, however, that it was worse than
useless to attempt anything of this sort with a man who, by his mere look
and presence whenever he entered a room, drew all eyes to himself and
hushed the murmur of conversation. It is certain that Mr. Webster soon
found himself the friend and associate of all the agreeable and
distinguished men of the town, and that he rapidly acquired that general
popularity which, in those days, went with him everywhere. It is also
certain that he at once and without effort assumed the highest position at
the bar as the recognized equal of its most eminent leaders. With an income
increased tenfold and promising still further enlargement, a practice in
which one fee probably surpassed the earnings of three months in New
Hampshire, with an agreeable society about him, popular abroad, happy and
beloved at home, nothing could have been more auspicious than these opening
years of his life in Boston.

The period upon which he then entered, and during which he withdrew from
active public service to devote himself to his profession, was a very
important one in his career. It was a period marked by a rapid intellectual
growth and by the first exhibition of his talents on a large scale. It
embraces, moreover, two events, landmarks in the life of Mr. Webster, which
placed him before the country as one of the first and the most eloquent of
her constitutional lawyers, and as the great master in the art of
occasional oratory. The first of these events was the argument in the
Dartmouth College case; the second was the delivery of the Plymouth

I do not propose to enter into or discuss the merits or demerits of the
constitutional and legal theories and principles involved in the famous
"college causes," or in any other of the great cases subsequently argued by
Mr. Webster. In a biography of this kind it is sufficient to examine Mr.
Webster's connection with the Dartmouth College case, and endeavor, by a
study of his arguments in that and in certain other hardly less important
causes, to estimate properly the character and quality of his abilities as
a lawyer, both in the ordinary acceptation of the term and in dealing with
constitutional questions.

The complete history of the Dartmouth College case is very curious and
deserves more than a passing notice. Until within three years it is not too
much to say that it was quite unknown, and its condition is but little
better now. In 1879 Mr. John M. Shirley published a volume entitled the
"Dartmouth College Causes," which is a monument of careful study and
thorough research. Most persons would conclude that it was a work of merely
legal interest, appealing to a limited class of professional readers. Even
those into whose hands it chanced to come have probably been deterred from
examining it as it deserves by the first chapter, which is very obscure,
and by the confusion of the narrative which follows. Yet this monograph,
which has so unfortunately suffered from a defective arrangement of
material, is of very great value, not only to our legal and constitutional
history, but to the political history of the time and to a knowledge of the
distinguished actors in a series of events which resulted in the
establishment of one of the most far-reaching of constitutional doctrines,
one that has been a living question ever since the year 1819, and is at
this moment of vast practical importance. Mr. Shirley has drawn forth from
the oblivion of manuscript a collection of documents which, taken in
conjunction with those already in print, throws a flood of light upon a
dark place of the past and gives to a dry constitutional question the vital
and human interest of political and personal history.

In his early days, Eleazer Wheelock, the founder of Dartmouth College, had
had much religious controversy with Dr. Bellamy of Connecticut, who was
like himself a graduate of Yale. Wheelock was a Presbyterian and a liberal,
Bellamy a Congregationalist and strictly orthodox. The charter of Dartmouth
was free from any kind of religious discrimination. By his will the elder
Wheelock provided in such a way that his son succeeded him in the
presidency of the college. In 1793 Judge Niles, a pupil of Bellamy, became
a trustee of the college, and he and John Wheelock represented the opposite
views which they respectively inherited from tutor and father. They were
formed for mutual hostility, and the contest began some twelve years before
it reached the public. The trustees and the president were then all
Federalists, and there would seem to have been no differences of either a
political or a religious nature. The trouble arose from the resistance of a
minority of the trustees to what they termed the "family dynasty."
Wheelock, however, maintained his ascendency until 1809, when his enemies
obtained a majority in the board of trustees, and thereafter admitted no
friend of the president to the government, and used every effort to subdue
the dominant dynasty.

In New Hampshire, at that period, the Federalists were the ruling party,
and the Congregationalists formed the state church. The people were, in
practice, taxed to support Congregational churches, and the clergy of that
denomination were exempted from taxation. All the Congregational ministers
were stanch Federalists and most of their parishioners were of the same
party. The college, the only seat of learning in the State, was one of the
Federalist and Congregational strongholds.

After several years of fruitless and bitter conflict, the Wheelock party,
in 1815, brought their grievances before the public in an elaborate
pamphlet. This led to a rejoinder and a war of pamphlets ensued, which was
soon transferred to the newspapers, and created a great sensation and a
profound interest. Wheelock now contemplated legal proceedings. Mr. Plumer
was in ill health, Judge Smith and Mr. Mason were allied with the trustees,
and the president therefore went to Mr. Webster, consulted him
professionally, paid him, and obtained a promise of his future services.
About the time of this consultation, Wheelock sent a memorial to the
Legislature, charging the trustees with misapplication of the funds, and
various breaches of trust, religious intolerance, and a violation of the
charter in their attacks upon the presidential office, and prayed for a
committee of investigation. The trustees met him boldly and offered a
sturdy resistance, denying all the charges, especially that of religious
intolerance; but the committee was voted by a large majority. On August
5th, Wheelock, as soon as he learned that the committee was to have a
hearing, wrote to Mr. Webster, reminding him of their consultation,
inclosing a fee of twenty dollars, and asking him to appear before the
committee. Mr. Webster did not come, and Wheelock had to go on as best he
could without him. One of Wheelock's friends, Mr. Dunham, wrote a very
indignant letter to Mr. Webster on his failure to appear; to which Mr.
Webster replied that he had seen Wheelock and they had contemplated a suit
in court, but that at the time of the hearing he was otherwise engaged, and
moreover that he did not regard a summons to appear before a legislative
committee as a professional call, adding that he was by no means sure that
the president was wholly in the right. The truth was, that many of Mr.
Webster's strongest personal and political friends, and most of the leaders
with whom he was associated in the control of the Federalist party, were
either trustees themselves or closely allied with the trustees. In the
interval between the consultation with Wheelock and the committee hearing,
these friends and leaders saw Mr. Webster, and pointed out to him that he
must not desert them, and that this college controversy was fast developing
into a party question. Mr. Webster was convinced, and abandoned Wheelock,
making, as has been seen, a very unsatisfactory explanation of his conduct.
In this way he finally parted company with Wheelock, and was thereafter
irrevocably engaged on the side of the trustees.

Events now moved rapidly. The trustees, without heeding the advice of Mr.
Mason to delay, removed Wheelock from the presidency, and appointed in his
place the Rev. Francis Brown. This fanned the flame of popular excitement,
and such a defiance of the legislative committee threw the whole question
into politics. As Mr. Mason had foreseen when he warned the trustees
against hasty action, all the Democrats, all members of sects other than
the Congregational, and all freethinkers generally, were united against the
trustees, and consequently against the Federalists. The election came on.
Wheelock, who was a Federalist, went over to the enemy, carrying his
friends with him, and Mr. Plumer, the Democratic candidate, was elected
Governor, together with a Democratic Legislature. Mr. Webster perceived at
once that the trustees were in a bad position. He advised that every effort
should be made to soothe the Democrats, and that the purpose of founding a
new college should be noised abroad, in order to create alarm. Strategy,
however, was vain. Governor Plumer declared against the trustees in his
message, and the Legislature in June, 1816, despite every sort of protest
and remonstrance, passed an act to reorganize the college, and virtually to
place it within the control of the State. The Governor and council at once
proceeded to choose trustees and overseers under the new law, and among
those thus selected was Joseph Story of Massachusetts.

Both boards of trustees assembled. The old board turned out Judge Woodward,
their secretary, who was a friend to Wheelock and secretary also of the new
board, and, receiving a thousand dollars from a friend of one of the
professors, resolved to fight. President Brown refused to obey the summons
of the new trustees, who expelled the old board by resolution. Thereupon
the old board brought suit against Woodward for the college seal and other
property, and the case came on for trial in May, 1817. Mr. Mason and Judge
Smith appeared for the college, George Sullivan and Ichabod Bartlett for
Woodward and the state board. The case was argued and then went over to the
September term of the same year, at Exeter, when Mason and Smith were
joined by Mr. Webster.

The cause was then argued again on both sides and with signal ability. In
point of talent the counsel for the college were vastly superior to their
opponents, but Sullivan and Bartlett were nevertheless strong men and
thoroughly prepared. Sullivan was a good lawyer and a fluent and ready
speaker, with great power of illustration. Bartlett was a shrewd,
hard-headed man, very keen and incisive, and one whom it was impossible to
outwit or deceive. He indulged, in his argument, in some severe reflections
upon Mr. Webster's conduct toward Wheelock, which so much incensed Mr.
Webster that he referred to Mr. Bartlett's argument in a most contemptuous
way, and strenuously opposed the publication of the remarks "personal or
injurious to counsel."

The weight of the argument for the college fell upon Mason and Smith, who
spoke for two and four hours respectively. Sullivan and Bartlett occupied
three hours, and the next day Mr. Webster closed for the plaintiffs in a
speech of two hours. Mr. Webster spoke with great force, going evidently
beyond the limits of legal argument, and winding up with a splendid
sentimental appeal which drew tears from the crowd in the Exeter
court-room, and which he afterwards used in an elaborated form and with
similar effect before the Supreme Court at Washington.

It now becomes necessary to state briefly the points at issue in this case,
which were all fully argued by the counsel on both sides. Mr. Mason's
brief, which really covered the whole case, was that the acts of the
Legislature were not obligatory, 1, because they were not within the
general scope of legislative power; 2, because they violated certain
provisions of the Constitution of New Hampshire restraining legislative
power; 3, because they violated the Constitution of the United States. In
Farrar's report of Mason's speech, twenty-three pages are devoted to the
first point, eight to the second, and six to the third. In other words, the
third point, involving the great constitutional doctrine on which the case
was finally decided at Washington, the doctrine that the Legislature, by
its acts, had impaired the obligation of a contract, was passed over
lightly. In so doing Mr. Mason was not alone. Neither he nor Judge Smith
nor Mr. Webster nor the court nor the counsel on the other side, attached
much importance to this point. Curiously enough, the theory had been
originated many years before, by Wheelock himself, at a time when he
expected that the minority of the trustees would invoke the aid of the
Legislature against him, and his idea had been remembered. It was revived
at the time of the newspaper controversy, and was pressed upon the
attention of the trustees and upon that of their counsel. But the lawyers
attached little weight to the suggestion, although they introduced it and
argued it briefly. Mason, Smith, and Webster all relied for success on the
ground covered by the first point in Mason's brief. This is called by Mr.
Shirley the "Parsons view," from the fact that it was largely drawn from an
argument made by Chief Justice Parsons in regard to visitatorial powers at
Harvard College. Briefly stated, the argument was that the college was an
institution founded by private persons for particular uses; that the
charter was given to perpetuate such uses; that misconduct of the trustees
was a question for the courts, and that the Legislature, by its
interference, transcended its powers. To these general principles,
strengthened by particular clauses in the Constitution of New Hampshire,
the counsel for the college trusted for victory. The theory of impairing
the obligation of contracts they introduced, but they did not insist on it,
or hope for much from it. On this point, however, and, of course, on this
alone, the case went up to the Supreme Court. In December, 1817, Mr.
Webster wrote to Mr. Mason, regretting that the case went up on "one point
only." He occupied himself at this time in devising cases which should
raise what he considered the really vital points, and which, coming within
the jurisdiction of the United States, could be taken to the Circuit Court,
and thence to the Supreme Court at Washington. These cases, in accordance
with his suggestion, were begun, but before they came on in the Circuit
Court, Mr. Webster made his great effort in Washington. Three quarters of
his legal argument were there devoted to the points in the Circuit Court
cases, which were not in any way before the Supreme Court in the College
vs. Woodward. So little, indeed, did Mr. Webster think of the great
constitutional question which has made the case famous, that he forced the
other points in where he admitted that they had no proper standing, and
argued them at length. They were touched upon by Marshall, who, however,
decided wholly upon the constitutional question, and they were all thrown
aside by Judge Washington, who declared them irrelevant, and rested his
decision solely and properly on the constitutional point. Two months after
his Washington argument, Mr. Webster, still urging forward the Circuit
Court cases, wrote to Mr. Mason that all the questions must be brought
properly before the Supreme Court, and that, on the "general principle"
that the State Legislature could not divest vested rights, strengthened by
the constitutional provisions of New Hampshire, he was sure they could
defeat their adversaries. Thus this doctrine of "impairing the obligation
of contracts," which produced a decision in its effects more far-reaching
and of more general interest than perhaps any other ever made in this
country, was imported into the case at the suggestion of laymen, was little
esteemed by counsel, and was comparatively neglected in every argument.

It is necessary to go back now, for a moment, in the history of the case.
The New Hampshire court decided against the plaintiffs on every point, and
gave a very strong and elaborate judgment, which Mr. Webster acknowledged
was "able, plausible, and ingenious." After much wrangling, the counsel
agreed on a special verdict, and took the case up on a writ of error to the
Supreme Court. Mason and Smith were unable or unwilling to go to
Washington, and the case was intrusted to Mr. Webster, who secured the
assistance of Mr. Joseph Hopkinson of Philadelphia. The case for the State,
hitherto ably managed, was now confided to Mr. John Holmes of Maine, and
Mr. Wirt, the Attorney-General, who handled it very badly. Holmes, an
active, fluent Democratic politician, made a noisy, rhetorical, political
speech, which pleased his opponents and disgusted his clients and their
friends. Mr. Wirt, loaded with business cares of every sort, came into
court quite unprepared, and endeavored to make up for his deficiencies by
declamation. On the other side the case was managed with consummate skill.
Hopkinson was a sound lawyer, and, being thoroughly prepared, made a good
legal argument. The burden of the conflict was, however, borne by Mr.
Webster, who was more interested personally than professionally, and who,
having raised money in Boston to defray the expenses of the suit, came into
the arena at Washington armed to the teeth, and in the full lustre of his
great powers.

The case was heard on March 10, 1818, and was opened by Mr. Webster. He had
studied the arguments of his adversaries below, and the vigorous hostile
opinion of the New Hampshire judges. He was in possession of the thorough
argument emanating from the penetrating mind of Mr. Mason and fortified and
extended by the ample learning and judicial wisdom of Judge Smith. To the
work of his eminent associates he could add nothing more than one not very
important point, and a few cases which his far-ranging and retentive memory
supplied. All the notes, minutes, and arguments of Smith and Mason were in
his hands. It is only just to say that Mr. Webster tells all this himself,
and that he gives all credit to his colleagues, whose arguments he says "he
clumsily put together," and of which he adds that he could only be the
reciter. The faculty of obtaining and using the valuable work of other men,
one of the characteristic qualities of a high and commanding order of mind,
was even then strong in Mr. Webster. But in that bright period of early
manhood it was accompanied by a frank and generous acknowledgment of all
and more than all the intellectual aid he received from others. He truly
and properly awarded to Mason and Smith all the credit for the law and for
the legal points and theories set forth on their side, and modestly says
that he was merely the arranger and reciter of other men's thoughts. But
how much that arrangement and recitation meant! There were, perhaps, no
lawyers better fitted than Mason and Smith to examine a case and prepare an
argument enriched with everything that learning and sagacity could suggest.
But when Mr. Webster burst upon the court and the nation with this great
appeal, it was certain that there was no man in the land who could so
arrange arguments and facts, who could state them so powerfully and with
such a grand and fitting eloquence.

The legal part of the argument was printed in Farrar's report and also in
Wheaton's, after it had been carefully revised by Mr. Webster with the
arguments of his colleagues before him. This legal and constitutional
discussion shows plainly enough Mr. Webster's easy and firm grasp of facts
and principles, and his power of strong, effective, and lucid statement;
but it is in its very nature dry, cold, and lawyer-like. It gives no
conception of the glowing vehemence of the delivery, or of those omitted
portions of the speech which dealt with matters outside the domain of law,
and which were introduced by Mr. Webster with such telling and important
results. He spoke for five hours, but in the printed report his speech
occupies only three pages more than that of Mr. Mason in the court below.
Both were slow speakers, and thus there is a great difference in time to be
accounted for, even after making every allowance for the peroration which
we have from another source, and for the wealth of legal and historical
illustration with which Mr. Webster amplified his presentation of the
question. "Something was left out," Mr. Webster says, and that something
which must have occupied in its delivery nearly an hour was the most
conspicuous example of the generalship by which Mr. Webster achieved
victory, and which was wholly apart from his law. This art of management
had already been displayed in the treatment of the cases made up for the
Circuit Courts, and in the elaborate and irrelevant legal discussion which
Mr. Webster introduced before the Supreme Court. But this management now
entered on a much higher stage, where it was destined to win victory, and
exhibited in a high degree tact and knowledge of men. Mr. Webster was fully
aware that he could rely, in any aspect of the case, upon the sympathy of
Marshall and Washington. He was equally certain of the unyielding
opposition of Duvall and Todd; the other three judges, Johnson, Livingston,
and Story, were known to be adverse to the college, but were possible
converts. The first point was to increase the sympathy of the Chief Justice
to an eager and even passionate support. Mr. Webster knew the chord to
strike, and he touched it with a master hand. This was the "something left
out," of which we know the general drift, and we can easily imagine the
effect. In the midst of all the legal and constitutional arguments,
relevant and irrelevant, even in the pathetic appeal which he used so well
in behalf of his Alma Mater, Mr. Webster boldly and yet skilfully
introduced the political view of the case. So delicately did he do it that
an attentive listener did not realize that he was straying from the field
of "mere reason" into that of political passion. Here no man could equal
him or help him, for here his eloquence had full scope, and on this he
relied to arouse Marshall, whom he thoroughly understood. In occasional
sentences he pictured his beloved college under the wise rule of
Federalists and of the Church. He depicted the party assault that was made
upon her. He showed the citadel of learning threatened with unholy invasion
and falling helplessly into the hands of Jacobins and freethinkers. As the
tide of his resistless and solemn eloquence, mingled with his masterly
argument, flowed on, we can imagine how the great Chief Justice roused like
an old war-horse at the sound of the trumpet. The words of the speaker
carried him back to the early years of the century, when, in the full flush
of manhood, at the head of his court, the last stronghold of Federalism,
the last bulwark of sound government, he had faced the power of the
triumphant Democrats. Once more it was Marshall against Jefferson,--the
judge against the President. Then he had preserved the ark of the
Constitution. Then he had seen the angry waves of popular feeling breaking
vainly at his feet. Now, in his old age, the conflict was revived.
Jacobinism was raising its sacrilegious hand against the temples of
learning, against the friends of order and good government. The joy of
battle must have glowed once more in the old man's breast as he grasped
anew his weapons and prepared with all the force of his indomitable will to
raise yet another constitutional barrier across the path of his ancient

We cannot but feel that Mr. Webster's lost passages, embodying this
political appeal, did the work, and that the result was settled when the
political passions of the Chief Justice were fairly aroused. Marshall would
probably have brought about the decision by the sole force of his imperious
will. But Mr. Webster did a good deal of effective work after the arguments
were all finished, and no account of the case would be complete without a
glance at the famous peroration with which he concluded his speech and in
which he boldly flung aside all vestige of legal reasoning, and spoke
directly to the passions and emotions of his hearers.

When he had finished his argument he stood silent for some moments, until
every eye was fixed upon him, then, addressing the Chief Justice, he

     This, sir, is my case. It is the case not merely of that humble
     institution, it is the case of every college in our land....

     "Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak; it is in
     your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary
     horizon of our country. You may put it out. But if you do so you
     must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after
     another, all those greater lights of science which for more than a
     century have thrown their radiance over our land. It is, sir, as I
     have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it."

Here his feelings mastered him; his eyes filled with tears, his lips
quivered, his voice was choked. In broken words of tenderness he spoke of
his attachment to the college, and his tones seemed filled with the
memories of home and boyhood; of early affections and youthful privations
and struggles.

     "The court room," says Mr. Goodrich, to whom we owe this
     description, "during these two or three minutes presented an
     extraordinary spectacle. Chief Justice Marshall, with his tall and
     gaunt figure bent over as if to catch the slightest whisper, the
     deep furrows of his cheek expanded with emotion and his eyes
     suffused with tears; Mr. Justice Washington, at his side, with his
     small and emaciated frame, and countenance more like marble than I
     ever saw on any other human being,--leaning forward with an eager,
     troubled look; and the remainder of the court at the two
     extremities, pressing, as it were, to a single point, while the
     audience below were wrapping themselves round in closer folds
     beneath the bench, to catch each look and every movement of the
     speaker's face....

     "Mr. Webster had now recovered his composure, and, fixing his keen
     eye on the Chief Justice, said in that deep tone with which he
     sometimes thrilled the heart of an audience:--

     "'Sir, I know not how others may feel' (glancing at the opponents
     of the college before him), 'but for myself, when I see my Alma
     Mater surrounded, like Caesar in the senate-house, by those who are
     reiterating stab after stab, I would not, for this right hand, have
     her turn to me, and say, _Et tu quoque, mi fili! And thou too, my

This outbreak of feeling was perfectly genuine. Apart from his personal
relations to the college, he had the true oratorical temperament, and no
man can be an orator in the highest sense unless he feels intensely, for
the moment at least, the truth and force of every word he utters. To move
others deeply he must be deeply moved himself. Yet at the same time Mr.
Webster's peroration, and, indeed, his whole speech, was a model of
consummate art. Great lawyer as he undoubtedly was, he felt on this
occasion that he could not rely on legal argument and pure reason alone.
Without appearing to go beyond the line of propriety, without indulging in
a declamation unsuited to the place, he had to step outside of legal points
and in a freer air, where he could use his keenest and strongest weapons,
appeal to the court not as lawyers but as men subject to passion, emotion,
and prejudice. This he did boldly, delicately, successfully, and thus he
won his case.

The replies of the opposing counsel were poor enough after such a speech.
Holmes's declamation sounded rather cheap, and Mr. Wirt, thrown off his
balance by Mr. Webster's exposure of his ignorance, did but slight justice
to himself or his cause. March 12th the arguments were closed, and the next
day, after a conference, the Chief Justice announced that the court could
agree on nothing and that the cause must be continued for a year, until the
next term. The fact probably was that Marshall found the judges five to two
against the college, and that the task of bringing them into line was not a
light one.

In this undertaking, however, he was powerfully aided by the counsel and
all the friends of the college. The old board of trustees had already paid
much attention to public opinion. The press was largely Federalist, and,
under the pressure of what was made a party question, they had espoused
warmly the cause of the college. Letters and essays had appeared, and
pamphlets had been circulated, together with the arguments of the counsel
at Exeter. This work was pushed with increased eagerness after the argument
at Washington, and the object now was to create about the three doubtful
judges an atmosphere of public opinion which should imperceptibly bring
them over to the college. Johnson, Livingston, and Story were all men who
would have started at the barest suspicion of outside influence even in the
most legitimate form of argument, which was all that was ever thought of or
attempted. This made the task of the trustees very delicate and difficult
in developing a public sentiment which should sway the judges without their
being aware of it. The printed arguments of Mason, Smith, and Webster were
carefully sent to certain of the judges, but not to all. All documents of a
similar character found their way to the same quarters. The leading
Federalists were aroused everywhere, so that the judges might be made to
feel their opinion. With Story, as a New England man, a Democrat by
circumstances, a Federalist by nature, there was but little difficulty. A
thorough review of the case, joined with Mr. Webster's argument, caused him
soon to change his first impression. To reach Livingston and Johnson was
not so easy, for they were out of New England, and it was necessary to go a
long way round to get at them. The great legal upholder of Federalism in
New York was Chancellor Kent. His first impression, like that of Story, was
decidedly against the college, but after much effort on the part of the
trustees and their able allies, Kent was converted, partly through his
reason, partly through his Federalism, and then his powers of persuasion
and his great influence on opinion came to bear very directly on
Livingston, more remotely on Johnson. The whole business was managed like a
quiet, decorous political campaign. The press and the party were everywhere
actively interested. At first, and in the early summer of 1818, before Kent
was converted, matters looked badly for the trustees. Mr. Webster knew the
complexion of the court, and hoped little from the point raised in Trustees
vs. Woodward. Still, no one despaired, and the work was kept up until, in
September, President Brown wrote to Mr. Webster in reference to the

     "It has already been, or shortly will be, read by all the
     _commanding_ men of New England and New York; and so far as it has
     gone it has united them all, without a single exception within my
     knowledge, in one broad and impenetrable phalanx for our defence
     and support. New England and New York _are gained_. Will not this
     be sufficient for our present purposes? If not, I should recommend
     reprinting. And on this point you are the best judge. I
     prevailingly think, however, that the current of opinion from this
     part of the country is setting so strongly towards the South that
     we may safely trust to its force alone to accomplish whatever is

The worthy clergyman writes of public opinion as if the object was to elect
a President. All this effort, however, was well applied, as was found when
the court came together at the next term. In the interval the State had
become sensible of the defects of their counsel, and had retained Mr.
Pinkney, who stood at that time at the head of the bar of the United
States. He had all the qualifications of a great lawyer, except perhaps
that of robustness. He was keen, strong, and learned; diligent in
preparation, he was ready and fluent in action, a good debater, and master
of a high order of eloquence. He was a most formidable adversary, and one
whom Mr. Webster, then just at the outset of his career, had probably no
desire to meet in such a doubtful case as this.[1] Even here, however,
misfortune seemed to pursue the State, for Mr. Pinkney was on bad terms
with Mr. Wirt, and acted alone. He did all that was possible; prepared
himself elaborately in the law and history of the case, and then went into
court ready to make the wisest possible move by asking for a re-argument.
Marshall, however, was also quite prepared. Turning his "blind ear," as
some one said, to Pinkney, he announced, as soon as he took his seat, that
the judges had come to a conclusion during the vacation. He then read one
of his great opinions, in which he held that the college charter was a
contract within the meaning of the Constitution, and that the acts of the
New Hampshire Legislature impaired this contract, and were therefore void.
To this decision four judges assented in silence, although Story and
Washington subsequently wrote out opinions. Judge Todd was absent, through
illness, and Judge Duvall dissented. The immediate effect of the decision
was to leave the college in the hands of the victorious Federalists. In the
precedent which it established, however, it had much deeper and more
far-reaching results. It brought within the scope of the Constitution of
the United States every charter granted by a State, limited the action of
the States in a most important attribute of sovereignty, and extended the
jurisdiction of the highest federal court more than any other judgment ever
rendered by them. From the day when it was announced to the present time,
the doctrine of Marshall in the Dartmouth College case has continued to
exert an enormous influence, and has been constantly sustained and attacked
in litigation of the greatest importance.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Peter Harvey, in his _Reminiscences_ (p. 122), has an
anecdote in regard to Webster and Pinkney, which places the former in the
light of a common and odious bully, an attitude as alien to Mr. Webster's
character as can well be conceived. The story is undoubtedly either wholly
fictitious or so grossly exaggerated as to be practically false. On the
page preceding the account of this incident, Mr. Harvey makes Webster say
that he never received a challenge from Randolph, whereas in Webster's own
letter, published by Mr. Curtis, there is express reference to a note of
challenge received from Randolph. This is a fair example of these
_Reminiscences_. A more untrustworthy book it would be impossible to
imagine. There is not a statement in it which can be safely accepted,
unless supported by other evidence. It puts its subject throughout in the
most unpleasant light, and nothing has ever been written about Webster so
well calculated to injure and belittle him as these feeble and distorted
recollections of his loving and devoted Boswell. It is the reflection of a
great man upon the mirror of a very small mind and weak memory.]

The defendant Woodward having died, Mr. Webster moved that the judgment be
entered _nunc pro tunc_. Pinkney and Wirt objected on the ground that the
other causes on the docket contained additional facts, and that no final
judgment should be entered until these causes had been heard. The court,
however, granted Mr. Webster's motion. Mr. Pinkney then tried to avail
himself of the stipulation in regard to the special verdict, that any new
and material facts might be added or any facts expunged. Mr. Webster
peremptorily declined to permit any change, obtained judgment against
Woodward, and obliged Mr. Pinkney to consent that the other causes should
be remanded, without instructions, to the Circuit Court, where they were
heard by Judge Story, who rendered a decree _nisi_ for the college. This
closed the case, and such were the last displays of Mr. Webster's dexterous
and vigorous management of the famous "college causes."

The popular opinion of this case seems to be that Mr. Webster, with the aid
of Mr. Mason and Judge Smith, developed a great constitutional argument,
which he forced upon the acceptance of the court by the power of his close
and logical reasoning, and thus established an interpretation of the
Constitution of vast moment. The truth is, that the suggestion of the
constitutional point, not a very remarkable idea in itself, originated, as
has been said, with a layman, was regarded by Mr. Webster as a forlorn
hope, and was very briefly discussed by him before the Supreme Court. He
knew, of course, that if the case were to be decided against Woodward, it
could only be on the constitutional point, but he evidently thought that
the court would not take the view of it which was favorable to the college.
The Dartmouth College case was unquestionably one of Mr. Webster's great
achievements at the bar, but it has been rightly praised on mistaken
grounds. Mr. Webster made a very fine presentation of the arguments mainly
prepared by Mason and Smith. He transcended the usual legal limits with a
burst of eloquent appeal which stands high among the famous passages of his
oratory. In what may be called the strategy of the case he showed the best
generalship and the most skilful management. He also proved himself to be
possessed of great tact and to be versed in the knowledge of men, qualities
not usually attributed to him because their exercise involved an amount of
care and painstaking foreign to his indolent and royal temperament, which
almost always relied on weight and force for victory.

Mr. Webster no doubt improved in details, and made better arguments at the
bar than he did upon this occasion, but the Dartmouth College case, on the
whole, shows his legal talents so nearly at their best, and in such unusual
variety, that it is a fit point at which to pause in order to consider some
of his other great legal arguments and his position and abilities as a
lawyer. For this purpose it is quite sufficient to confine ourselves to the
cases mentioned by Mr. Curtis, and to the legal arguments preserved in the
collection of Mr. Webster's speeches.

Five years after the Dartmouth College decision, Mr. Webster made his
famous argument in the case of Gibbons vs. Ogden. The case was called
suddenly, and Mr. Webster prepared his argument in a single night of
intense labor. The facts were all before him, but he showed a readiness in
arrangement only equalled by its force. The question was whether the State
of New York had a right under the Constitution to grant a monopoly of steam
navigation in its waters to Fulton and Livingston. Mr. Webster contended
that the acts making such a grant were unconstitutional, because the power
of Congress to regulate commerce was, within certain limitations,
exclusive. He won his cause, and the decision, from its importance,
probably enhanced the contemporary estimate of his effort. The argument was
badly reported, but it shows all its author's strongest qualities of close
reasoning and effective statement. The point in issue was neither difficult
nor obscure, and afforded no opportunity for a display of learning. It was
purely a matter of constitutional interpretation, and could be discussed
chiefly in a historical manner and from the standpoint of public interests.
This was particularly fitted to Mr. Webster's cast of mind, and he did his
subject full justice. It was pure argument on general principles. Mr.
Webster does not reach that point of intense clearness and condensation
which characterized Marshall and Hamilton, in whose writings we are
fascinated by the beauty of the intellectual display, and are held fast by
each succeeding line, which always comes charged with fresh meaning.
Nevertheless, Mr. Webster touches a very high point in this most difficult
form of argument, and the impressiveness of his manner and voice carried
all that he said to its mark with a direct force in which he stood

In Ogden v. Saunders, heard in 1827, Mr. Webster argued that the clause
prohibiting state laws impairing the obligation of contracts covered future
as well as past contracts. He defended his position with astonishing
ability, but the court very correctly decided against him. The same
qualities which appear in these cases are shown in the others of a like
nature, which were conspicuous among the multitude with which he was
intrusted. We find them also in cases involving purely legal questions,
such as the Bank of the United States v. Primrose, and The Providence
Railroad Co. v. The City of Boston, accompanied always with that ready
command of learning which an extraordinary memory made easy. There seemed
to be no diminution of Mr. Webster's great powers in this field as he
advanced in years. In the Rhode Island case and in the Passenger Tax cases,
argued when he was sixty-six years old, he rose to the same high plane of
clear, impressive, effective reasoning as when he defended his Alma Mater.

Two causes, however, demand more than a passing mention,--the Girard will
case and the Rhode Island case. The former involved no constitutional
points. The suit was brought to break the will of Stephen Girard, and the
question was whether the bequest to found a college could be construed to
be a charitable devise. On this question Mr. Webster had a weak case in
point of law, but he readily detected a method by which he could go boldly
outside the law, as he had done to a certain degree in the Dartmouth
College case, and substitute for argument an eloquent and impassioned
appeal to emotion and prejudice. Girard was a free-thinker, and he provided
in his will that no priest or minister of any denomination should be
admitted to his college. Assuming that this excluded all religious
teaching, Mr. Webster then laid down the proposition that no bequest or
gift could be charitable which excluded Christian teaching. In other words,
he contended that there was no charity except Christian charity, which, the
poet assures us, is so rare. At this day such a theory would hardly be
gravely propounded by any one. But Mr. Webster, on the ground that Girard's
bequest was derogatory to Christianity, pronounced a very fine discourse
defending and eulogizing, with much eloquence, the Christian religion. The
speech produced a great effect. One is inclined to think that it was the
cause of the court's evading the question raised by Mr. Webster, and
sustaining the will, a result they were bound to reach in any event, on
other grounds. The speech certainly produced a great sensation, and was
much admired, especially by the clergy, who caused it to be printed and
widely distributed. It did not impress lawyers quite so favorably, and we
find Judge Story writing to Chancellor Kent that "Webster did his best for
the other side, but it seems to me altogether an address to the prejudices
of the clergy." The subject, in certain ways, had a deep attraction for Mr.
Webster. His imagination was excited by the splendid history of the Church,
and his conservatism was deeply stirred by a system which, whether in the
guise of the Romish hierarchy, as the Church of England, or in the form of
powerful dissenting sects, was, as a whole, imposing by its age, its
influence, and its moral grandeur. Moreover, it was one of the great
established bulwarks of well-ordered and civilized society. All this
appealed strongly to Mr. Webster, and he made the most of his opportunity
and of his shrewdly-chosen ground. Yet the speech on the Girard will is not
one of his best efforts. It has not the subdued but intense fire which
glowed so splendidly in his great speeches in the Senate. It lacked the
stately pathos which came always when Mr. Webster was deeply moved. It was
delivered in 1844, and was slightly tinged with the pompousness which
manifested itself in his late years, and especially on religious topics. No
man has a right to question the religious sincerity of another, unless upon
evidence so full and clear that, in such cases, it is rarely to be found.
There is certainly no cause for doubt in Mr. Webster's case. He was both
sincere and honest in religion, and had a real and submissive faith. But he
accepted his religion as one of the great facts and proprieties of life. He
did not reach his religious convictions after much burning questioning and
many bitter experiences. In this he did not differ from most men of this
age, and it only amounts to saying that Mr. Webster did not have a deeply
religious temperament. He did not have the ardent proselyting spirit which
is the surest indication of a profoundly religious nature; the spirit of
the Saracen Emir crying, "Forward! Paradise is under the shadow of our
swords." When, therefore, he turned his noble powers to a defence of
religion, he did not speak with that impassioned fervor which, coming from
the depths of a man's heart, savors of inspiration and seems essential to
the highest religious eloquence. He believed thoroughly every word he
uttered, but he did not feel it, and in things spiritual the heart must be
enlisted as well as the head. It was wittily said of a well-known
anti-slavery leader, that had he lived in the Middle Ages he would have
gone to the stake for a principle, under a misapprehension as to the facts.
Mr. Webster not only could never have misapprehended facts, but, if he had
flourished in the Middle Ages he would have been a stanch and honest
supporter of the strongest government and of the dominant church. Perhaps
this defines his religious character as well as anything, and explains why
the argument in the Girard will case, fine as it was, did not reach the
elevation and force which he so often displayed on other themes.

The Rhode Island case grew out of the troubles known at that period as
Dorr's rebellion. It involved a discussion not only of the constitutional
provisions for suppressing insurrections and securing to every State a
republican form of government, but also of the general history and theory
of the American governments, both state and national. There was thus
offered to Mr. Webster that full scope and large field in which he
delighted, and which were always peculiarly favorable to his talents. His
argument was purely constitutional, and although not so closely reasoned,
perhaps, as some of his earlier efforts, is, on the whole, as fine a
specimen as we have of his intellectual power as a constitutional lawyer at
the bar of the highest national tribunal. Mr. Webster did not often
transcend the proper limits of purely legal discussion in the courts, and
yet even when the question was wholly legal, the court-room would be
crowded by ladies as well as gentlemen, to hear him speak. It was so at the
hearing of the Girard suit; and during the strictly legal arguments in the
Charles River Bridge case, the court-room, Judge Story says, was filled
with a brilliant audience, including many ladies, and he adds that
"Webster's closing reply was in his best manner, but with a little too much
_fierté_ here and there." The ability to attract such audiences gives an
idea of the impressiveness of his manner and of the beauty of his voice and
delivery better than anything else, for these qualities alone could have
drawn the general public and held their attention to the cold and dry
discussion of laws and constitutions.

There is a little anecdote told by Mr. Curtis in connection with this Rhode
Island case, which illustrates very well two striking qualities in Mr.
Webster as a lawyer. The counsel in the court below had been assisted by a
clever young lawyer named Bosworth, who had elaborated a point which he
thought very important, but which his seniors rejected. Mr. Bosworth was
sent to Washington to instruct Mr. Webster as to the cause, and, after he
had gone through the case, Mr. Webster asked if that was all. Mr. Bosworth
modestly replied that there was another view of his own which his seniors
had rejected, and then stated it briefly. When he concluded, Mr. Webster
started up and exclaimed, "Mr. Bosworth, by the blood of all the Bosworths
who fell on Bosworth field, that is _the_ point of the case. Let it be
included in the brief by all means." This is highly characteristic of one
of Mr. Webster's strongest attributes. He always saw with an unerring
glance "_the_ point" of a case or a debate. A great surgeon will detect the
precise spot where the knife should enter when disease hides it from other
eyes, and often with apparent carelessness will make the necessary incision
at the exact place when a deflection of a hair's breadth or a tremor of the
hand would bring death to the patient. Mr. Webster had the same
intellectual dexterity, the mingled result of nature and art. As the tiger
is said to have a sure instinct for the throat of his victim, so Mr.
Webster always seized on the vital point of a question. Other men would
debate and argue for days, perhaps, and then Mr. Webster would take up the
matter, and grasp at once the central and essential element which had been
there all along, pushed hither and thither, but which had escaped all eyes
but his own. He had preëminently

                      "The calm eye that seeks
    'Midst all the huddling silver little worth
    The one thin piece that comes, pure gold."

The anecdote further illustrates the use which Mr. Webster made of the
ideas of other people. He did not say to Mr. Bosworth, here is the true
point of the case, but he saw that something was wanting, and asked the
young lawyer what it was. The moment the proposition was stated he
recognized its value and importance at a glance. He might and probably
would have discovered it for himself, but his instinct was to get it from
some one else.

It is one of the familiar attributes of great intellectual power to be able
to select subordinates wisely; to use other people and other people's labor
and thought to the best advantage, and to have as much as possible done for
one by others. This power of assimilation Mr. Webster had to a marked
degree. There is no depreciation in saying that he took much from others,
for it is a capacity characteristic of the strongest minds, and so long as
the debt is acknowledged, such a faculty is a subject for praise, not
criticism. But when the recipient becomes unwilling to admit the obligation
which is no detraction to himself, and without which the giver is poor
indeed, the case is altered. In his earliest days Mr. Webster used to draw
on one Parker Noyes, a mousing, learned New Hampshire lawyer, and freely
acknowledged the debt. In the Dartmouth College case, as has been seen, he
over and over again gave simply and generously all the credit for the
learning and the points of the brief to Mason and Smith, and yet the glory
of the case has rested with Mr. Webster and always will. He gained by his
frank honesty and did not lose a whit. But in his latter days, when his
sense of justice had grown somewhat blunted and his nature was perverted by
the unmeasured adulation of the little immediate circle which then hung
about him, he ceased to admit his obligations as in his earlier and better
years. From no one did Mr. Webster receive so much hearty and generous
advice and assistance as from Judge Story, whose calm judgment and wealth
of learning were always at his disposal. They were given not only in
questions of law, but in regard to the Crimes Act, the Judiciary Act, and
the Ashburton treaty. After Judge Story's death, Mr. Webster not only
declined to allow the publication by the judge's son and biographer of
Story's letters to himself, but he refused to permit even the publication
of extracts from his own letters, intended merely to show the nature of the
services rendered to him by Story. A cordial assent would have enhanced the
reputation of both. The refusal is a blot on the intellectual greatness of
the one and a source of bitterness to the descendants and admirers of the
other. It is to be regretted that the extraordinary ability which Mr.
Webster always showed in grasping and assimilating masses of theories and
facts, and in drawing from them what was best, should ever have been
sullied by a want of gratitude which, properly and freely rendered, would
have made the lustre of his own fame shine still more brightly.

A close study of Mr. Webster's legal career, in the light of contemporary
reputation and of the best examples of his work, leads to certain quite
obvious conclusions. He had not a strongly original or creative legal mind.
This was chiefly due to nature, but in some measure to a dislike to the
slow processes of investigation and inquiry which were always distasteful
to him, although he was entirely capable of intense and protracted
exertion. He cannot, therefore, be ranked with the illustrious few, among
whom we count Mansfield and Marshall as the most brilliant examples, who
not only declared what the law was, but who made it. Mr. Webster's powers
were not of this class, but, except in these highest and rarest qualities,
he stands in the front rank of the lawyers of his country and his age.
Without extraordinary profundity of thought or depth of learning, he had a
wide, sure, and ready knowledge both of principles and cases. Add to this
quick apprehension, unerring sagacity for vital and essential points, a
perfect sense of proportion, an almost unequalled power of statement,
backed by reasoning at once close and lucid, and we may fairly say that Mr.
Webster, who possessed all these qualities, need fear comparison with but
very few among the great lawyers of that period either at home or abroad.



The conduct of the Dartmouth College case, and its result, at once raised
Mr. Webster to a position at the bar second only to that held by Mr.
Pinkney. He was now constantly occupied by most important and lucrative
engagements, but in 1820 he was called upon to take a leading part in a
great public work which demanded the exertion of all his talents as
statesman, lawyer, and debater. The lapse of time and the setting off of
the Maine district as a State had made a convention necessary, in order to
revise the Constitution of Massachusetts. This involved the direct resort
to the people, the source of all power, which is only required to effect a
change in the fundamental law of the State. On these rare occasions it has
been the honored custom in Massachusetts to lay aside all the
qualifications attaching to ordinary legislatures and to choose the best
men, without regard to party, public office, or domicile, for the
performance of this important work. No better or abler body could have been
assembled for this purpose than that which met in convention at Boston in
November, 1820. Among these distinguished men were John Adams, then in his
eighty-fifth year, and one of the framers of the original Constitution of
1780, Chief Justice Parker, of the Supreme Bench, the Federal judges, and
many of the leaders at the bar and in business. The two most conspicuous
men in the convention, however, were Joseph Story and Daniel Webster, who
bore the burden in every discussion; and there were three subjects, upon
which Mr. Webster spoke at length, that deserve more than a passing

Questions of party have, as a rule, found but little place in the
constitutional assemblies of Massachusetts. This was peculiarly the case in
1820, when the old political divisions were dying out, and new ones had not
yet been formed. At the same time widely opposite views found expression in
the convention. The movement toward thorough and complete democracy was
gathering headway, and directing its force against many of the old colonial
traditions and habits of government embodied in the existing Constitution.
That portion of the delegates which favored certain radical changes was
confronted and stoutly opposed by those who, on the whole, inclined to make
as few alterations as possible, and desired to keep things about as they
were. Mr. Webster, as was natural, was the leader of the conservative
party, and his course in this convention is an excellent illustration of
this marked trait in his disposition and character.

One of the important questions concerned the abolition of the profession of
Christian faith as a qualification for holding office. On this point the
line of argument pursued by Mr. Webster is extremely characteristic.
Although an unvarying conservative throughout his life, he was incapable of
bigotry, or of narrow and illiberal views. At the same time the process by
which he reached his opinion in favor of removing the religious test shows
more clearly than even ultra-conservatism could, how free he was from any
touch of the reforming or innovating spirit. He did not urge that, on
general principles, religious tests were wrong, that they were relics of
the past and in hopeless conflict with the fundamental doctrines of
American liberty and democracy. On the contrary, he implied that a
religious test was far from being of necessity an evil. He laid down the
sound doctrine that qualifications for office were purely matters of
expediency, and then argued that it was wise to remove the religious test
because, while its principle would be practically enforced by a Christian
community, it was offensive to some persons to have it engrafted on the
Constitution. The speech in which he set forth these views was an able and
convincing one, entirely worthy of its author, and the removal of the test
was carried by a large majority. It is an interesting example of the
combination of steady conservatism and breadth of view which Mr. Webster
always displayed. But it also brings into strong relief his aversion to
radical general principles as grounds of action, and his inborn hostility
to far-reaching change.

His two other important speeches in this convention have been preserved in
his works, and are purely and wholly conservative in tone and spirit. The
first related to the basis of representation in the Senate, whose members
were then apportioned according to the amount of taxable property in the
districts. This system, Mr. Webster thought, should be retained, and his
speech was a most masterly discussion of the whole system of government by
two Houses. He urged the necessity of a basis of representation for the
upper House different from that of the lower, in order to make the former
fully serve its purpose of a check and balance to the popular branch. This
important point he handled in the most skilful manner, and there is no
escape from his conclusion that a difference of origin in the two
legislative branches of the government is essential to the full and perfect
operation of the system. This difference of origin, he argued, could be
obtained only by the introduction of property as a factor in the basis of
representation. The weight of his speech was directed to defending the
principle of a suitable representation of property, which was a subject
requiring very adroit treatment. The doctrine is one which probably would
not be tolerated now in any part of this country, and even in 1820, in
Massachusetts, it was a delicate matter to advocate it, for it was hostile
to the general sentiment of the people. Having established his position
that it was all important to make the upper branch a strong and effective
check, he said that the point in issue was not whether property offered the
best method of distinguishing between the two Houses, but whether it was
not better than no distinction at all. This being answered affirmatively,
the next question to be considered was whether property, not in the sense
of personal possessions and personal power, but in a general sense, ought
not to have its due influence in matters of government. He maintained the
justice of this proposition by showing that our constitutions rest largely
on the general equality of property, which, in turn, is due to our laws of
distribution. This led him into a discussion of the principles of the
distribution of property. He pointed out the dangers arising in England
from the growth of a few large estates, while on the other hand he
predicted that the rapid and minute subdivision of property in France would
change the character of the government, and, far from strengthening the
crown, as was then generally prophesied, would have a directly opposite
effect, by creating a large and united body of small proprietors, who would
sooner or later control the country. He illustrated, in this way, the value
and importance of a general equality of property, and of steadiness in
legislation affecting it. These were the reasons, he contended, for making
property the basis of the check and balance furnished to our system of
government by an upper House. Moreover, all property being subject to
taxation for the purpose of educating the children of both rich and poor,
it deserved some representation for this valuable aid to government. It is
impossible, in a few lines,[1] to do justice to Mr. Webster's argument. It
exhibited a great deal of tact and ingenuity, especially in the distinction
so finely drawn between property as an element of personal power and
property in a general sense, and so distributed as to be a bulwark of
liberty. The speech is, on this account, an interesting one, for Mr.
Webster was rarely ingenious, and hardly ever got over difficulties by
fine-spun distinctions. In this instance adroitness was very necessary, and
he did not hesitate to employ it. By his skilful treatment, by his
illustrations drawn from England and France, which show the accuracy and
range of his mental vision in matters of politics and public economy, both
at home and abroad, and with the powerful support of Judge Story, Mr.
Webster carried his point. The element of property representation in the
Senate was retained, but so wholly by the ability of its advocate, that it
was not long afterwards removed.

[Footnote 1: My brief statement is merely a further condensation of the
excellent abstract of this speech made by Mr Curtis.]

Mr. Webster's other important speech related to the judiciary. The
Constitution provided that the judges, who held office during good
behavior, should be removable by the Governor on an address from the
Legislature. This was considered to meet cases of incompetency or of
personal misconduct, which could not be reached by impeachment. Mr. Webster
desired to amend the clause so as to require a two thirds vote for the
passage of the address, and that reasons should be assigned, and a hearing
assured to the judge who was the subject of the proceedings. These changes
were all directed to the further protection of the bench, and it was in
this connection that Mr. Webster made a most admirable and effective speech
on the well-worn but noble theme of judicial independence. He failed to
carry conviction, however, and his amendments were all lost. The perils
which he anticipated have never arisen, and the good sense of the people of
Massachusetts has prevented the slightest abuse of what Mr. Webster rightly
esteemed a dangerous power.

Mr. Webster's continual and active exertion throughout the session of this
convention brought him great applause and admiration, and showed his powers
in a new light. Judge Story, with generous enthusiasm, wrote to Mr. Mason,
after the convention adjourned:--

     "Our friend Webster has gained a noble reputation. He was before
     known as a lawyer; but he has now secured the title of an eminent
     and enlightened statesman. It was a glorious field for him, and he
     has had an ample harvest. The whole force of his great mind was
     brought out, and, in several speeches, he commanded universal
     admiration. He always led the van, and was most skilful and
     instantaneous in attack and retreat. He fought, as I have told him,
     in the 'imminent deadly breach;' and all I could do was to
     skirmish, in aid of him, upon some of the enemy's outposts. On the
     whole, I never was more proud of any display than his in my life,
     and I am much deceived if the well-earned popularity, so justly and
     so boldly acquired by him on this occasion, does not carry him, if
     he lives, to the presidency."

While this convention, so memorable in the career of Mr. Webster and so
filled with the most absorbing labors, was in session, he achieved a still
wider renown in a very different field. On the 22d of December, 1820, he
delivered at Plymouth the oration which commemorated the two hundredth
anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. The theme was a splendid one,
both in the intrinsic interest of the event itself, in the character of the
Pilgrims, in the vast results which had grown from their humble beginnings,
and in the principles of free government, which had spread from the cabins
of the exiles over the face of a continent, and had become the common
heritage of a great people. We are fortunate in having a description of the
orator, written at the time by a careful observer and devoted friend, Mr.
Ticknor, who says:--

     "_Friday Evening._--I have run away from a great levee there is
     down-stairs, thronging in admiration round Mr. Webster, to tell you
     a little word about his oration. Yet I do not dare to trust myself
     about it, and I warn you beforehand that I have not the least
     confidence in my own opinion. His manner carried me away
     completely; not, I think, that I could have been so carried away if
     it had been a poor oration, for of that, I apprehend, there can be
     no fear. It _must_ have been a great, a very great performance, but
     whether it was so absolutely unrivalled as I imagined when I was
     under the immediate influence of his presence, of his tones, of his
     looks, I cannot be sure till I have read it, for it seems to me

     "I was never so excited by public speaking before in my life. Three
     or four times I thought my temples would burst with the gush of
     blood; for, after all, you must know that I am aware it is no
     connected and compacted whole, but a collection of wonderful
     fragments of burning eloquence, to which his whole manner gave
     tenfold force. When I came out I was almost afraid to come near to
     him. It seemed to me as if he was like the mount that might not be
     touched and that burned with fire. I was beside myself, and am so

     "_Saturday._--Mr. Webster was in admirable spirits. On Thursday
     evening he was considerably agitated and oppressed, and yesterday
     morning he had not his natural look at all; but since his entire
     success he has been as gay and playful as a kitten. The party came
     in one after another, and the spirits of all were kindled brighter
     and brighter, and we fairly sat up till after two o'clock. I think,
     therefore, we may now safely boast the Plymouth expedition has gone
     off admirably."

Mr. Ticknor was a man of learning and scholarship, just returned from a
prolonged sojourn in Europe, where he had met and conversed with all the
most distinguished men of the day, both in England and on the Continent. He
was not, therefore, disposed by training or recent habits to indulge a
facile enthusiasm, and such deep emotion as he experienced must have been
due to no ordinary cause. He was, in fact, profoundly moved because he had
been listening to one of the great masters of eloquence exhibiting, for the
first time, his full powers in a branch of the art much more cultivated in
America by distinguished men of all professions than is the custom
elsewhere. The Plymouth oration belongs to what, for lack of a better name,
we must call occasional oratory. This form of address, taking an
anniversary, a great historical event or character, a celebration, or
occasion of any sort as a starting point, permits either a close adherence
to the original text or the widest latitude of treatment. The field is a
broad and inviting one. That it promises an easy success is shown by the
innumerable productions of this kind which, for many years, have been
showered upon the country. That the promise is fallacious is proved by the
very small number among the countless host of such addresses which survive
the moment of their utterance. The facility of saying something is
counterbalanced by the difficulty of saying anything worth hearing. The
temptation to stray and to mistake platitude for originality is almost
always fatal.

Mr. Webster was better fitted than any man who has ever lived in this
country for the perilous task of occasional oratory. The freedom of
movement which renders most speeches of this class diluted and commonplace
was exactly what he needed. He required abundant intellectual room for a
proper display of his powers, and he had the rare quality of being able to
range over vast spaces of time and thought without becoming attenuated in
what he said. Soaring easily, with a powerful sweep he returned again to
earth without jar or shock. He had dignity and grandeur of thought,
expression, and manner, and a great subject never became small by his
treatment of it. He had, too, a fine historical imagination, and could
breathe life and passion into the dead events of the past.

Mr. Ticknor speaks of the Plymouth oration as impressing him as a series of
eloquent fragments. The impression was perfectly correct. Mr. Webster
touched on the historical event, on the character of the Pilgrims, on the
growth and future of the country, on liberty and constitutional principles,
on education, and on human slavery. This was entirely proper to such an
address. The difficulty lay in doing it well, and Mr. Webster did it as
perfectly as it ever has been done. The thoughts were fine, and were
expressed in simple and beautiful words. The delivery was grand and
impressive, and the presentation of each successive theme glowed with
subdued fire. There was no straining after mere rhetorical effect, but an
artistic treatment of a succession of great subjects in a general and yet
vivid and picturesque fashion. The emotion produced by the Plymouth oration
was akin to that of listening to the strains of music issuing from a
full-toned organ. Those who heard it did not seek to gratify their reason
or look for conviction to be brought to their understanding. It did not
appeal to the logical faculties or to the passions, which are roused by the
keen contests of parliamentary debate. It was the divine gift of speech,
the greatest instrument given to man, used with surpassing talent, and the
joy and pleasure which it brought were those which come from listening to
the song of a great singer, or looking upon the picture of a great artist.

The Plymouth oration, which was at once printed and published, was received
with a universal burst of applause. It had more literary success than
anything which had at that time appeared, except from the pen of Washington
Irving. The public, without stopping to analyze their own feelings, or the
oration itself, recognized at once that a new genius had come before them,
a man endowed with the noble gift of eloquence, and capable by the exercise
of his talents of moving and inspiring great masses of his fellow-men. Mr.
Webster was then of an age to feel fully the glow of a great success, both
at the moment and when the cooler and more critical approbation came. He
was fresh and young, a strong man rejoicing to run the race. Mr. Ticknor
says, in speaking of the oration:--

     "The passage at the end, where, spreading his arms as if to embrace
     them, he welcomed future generations to the great inheritance which
     we have enjoyed, was spoken with the most attractive sweetness and
     that peculiar smile which in him was always so charming. The effect
     of the whole was very great. As soon as he got home to our
     lodgings, all the principal people then in Plymouth crowded about
     him. He was full of animation, and radiant with happiness. But
     there was something about him very grand and imposing at the same
     time. I never saw him at any time when he seemed to me to be more
     conscious of his own powers, or to have a more true and natural
     enjoyment from their possession."

Amid all the applause and glory, there was one letter of congratulation and
acknowledgment which must have given Mr. Webster more pleasure than
anything else, It came from John Adams, who never did anything by halves.
Whether he praised or condemned, he did it heartily and ardently, and such
an oration on New England went straight to the heart of the eager,
warm-blooded old patriot. His commendation, too, was worth having, for he
spoke as one having authority. John Adams had been one of the eloquent men
and the most forcible debater of the first Congress. He had listened to the
great orators of other lands. He had heard Pitt and Fox, Burke and
Sheridan, and had been present at the trial of Warren Hastings. His
unstinted praise meant and still means a great deal, and it concludes with
one of the finest and most graceful of compliments. The oration, he says,

     "is the effort of a great mind, richly stored with every species of
     information. If there be an American who can read it without tears,
     I am not that American. It enters more perfectly into the genuine
     spirit of New England than any production I ever read. The
     observations on the Greeks and Romans; on colonization in general;
     on the West India islands; on the past, present, and future of
     America, and on the slave-trade, are sagacious, profound, and
     affecting in a high degree."

     "Mr. Burke is no longer entitled to the praise--the most consummate
     orator of modern times."

     "What can I say of what regards myself? To my humble name,
     _Exegisti monumentum aere perennius_."

Many persons consider the Plymouth oration to be the finest of all Mr.
Webster's efforts in this field. It is certainly one of the very best of
his productions, but he showed on the next great occasion a distinct
improvement, which he long maintained. Five years after the oration at
Plymouth, he delivered the address on the laying of the corner-stone of
Bunker Hill monument. The superiority to the first oration was not in
essentials, but in details, the fruit of a ripening and expanding mind. At
Bunker Hill, as at Plymouth, he displayed the massiveness of thought, the
dignity and grandeur of expression, and the range of vision which are all
so characteristic of his intellect and which were so much enhanced by his
wonderful physical attributes. But in the later oration there is a greater
finish and smoothness. We appreciate the fact that the Plymouth oration is
a succession of eloquent fragments; the same is true of the Bunker Hill
address, but we no longer realize it. The continuity is, in appearance,
unbroken, and the whole work is rounded and polished. The style, too, is
now perfected. It is at once plain, direct, massive, and vivid. The
sentences are generally short and always clear, but never monotonous. The
preference for Anglo-Saxon words and the exclusion of Latin derivatives are
extremely marked, and we find here in rare perfection that highest
attribute of style, the union of simplicity, picturesqueness, and force.

In the first Bunker Hill oration Mr. Webster touched his highest point in
the difficult task of commemorative oratory. In that field he not only
stands unrivalled, but no one has approached him. The innumerable
productions of this class by other men, many of a high degree of
excellence, are forgotten, while those of Webster form part of the
education of every American school-boy, are widely read, and have entered
into the literature and thought of the country. The orations of Plymouth
and Bunker Hill are grouped in Webster's works with a number of other
speeches professedly of the same kind. But only a very few of these are
strictly occasional; the great majority are chiefly, if not wholly,
political speeches, containing merely passages here and there in the same
vein as his great commemorative addresses. Before finally leaving the
subject, however, it will be well to glance for a moment at the few
orations which properly belong to the same class as the first two which we
have been considering.

The Bunker Hill oration, after the lapse of only a year, was followed by
the celebrated eulogy upon Adams and Jefferson. This usually and with
justice is ranked in merit with its two immediate predecessors. As a whole
it is not, perhaps, quite so much admired, but it contains the famous
imaginary speech of John Adams, which is the best known and most hackneyed
passage in any of these orations. The opening lines, "Sink or swim, live or
die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote," since
Mr. Webster first pronounced them in Faneuil Hall, have risen even to the
dignity of a familiar quotation. The passage, indeed, is perhaps the best
example we have of the power of Mr. Webster's historical imagination. He
had some fragmentary sentences, the character of the man, the nature of the
debate, and the circumstances of the time to build upon, and from these
materials he constructed a speech which was absolutely startling in its
lifelike force. The revolutionary Congress, on the verge of the tremendous
step which was to separate them from England, rises before us as we read
the burning words which the imagination of the speaker put into the mouth
of John Adams. They are not only instinct with life, but with the life of
impending revolution, and they glow with the warmth and strength of feeling
so characteristic of their supposed author. It is well known that the
general belief at the time was that the passage was an extract from a
speech actually delivered by John Adams. Mr. Webster, as well as Mr.
Adams's son and grandson, received numerous letters of inquiry on this
point, and it is possible that many people still persist in this belief as
to the origin of the passage. Such an effect was not produced by mere
clever imitation, for there was nothing to imitate, but by the force of a
powerful historic imagination and a strong artistic sense in its

In 1828 Mr. Webster delivered an address before the Mechanics' Institute in
Boston, on "Science in connection with the Mechanic Arts," a subject which
was outside of his usual lines of thought, and offered no especial
attractions to him. This oration is graceful and strong, and possesses
sufficient and appropriate eloquence. It is chiefly interesting, however,
from the reserve and self-control, dictated by a nice sense of fitness,
which it exhibited. Omniscience was not Mr. Webster's foible. He never was
guilty of Lord Brougham's weakness of seeking to prove himself master of
universal knowledge. In delivering an address on science and invention,
there was a strong temptation to an orator like Mr. Webster to substitute
glittering rhetoric for real knowledge; but the address at the Mechanics'
Institute is simply the speech of a very eloquent and a liberally educated
man upon a subject with which he had only the most general acquaintance.
The other orations of this class were those on "The Character of
Washington," the second Bunker Hill address, "The Landing at Plymouth,"
delivered in New York at the dinner of the Pilgrim Society, the remarks on
the death of Judge Story and of Mr. Mason, and finally the speech on laying
the corner-stone for the addition to the Capitol, in 1851. These were all
comparatively brief speeches, with the exception of that at Bunker Hill,
which, although very fine, was perceptibly inferior to his first effort
when the corner-stone of the monument was laid. The address on the
character of Washington, to an American the most dangerous of great and
well-worn topics, is of a high order of eloquence. The theme appealed to
Mr. Webster strongly and brought out his best powers, which were peculiarly
fitted to do justice to the noble, massive, and dignified character of the
subject. The last of these addresses, that on the addition to the Capitol,
was in a prophetic vein, and, while it shows but little diminution of
strength, has a sadness even in its splendid anticipations of the future,
which makes it one of the most impressive of its class. All those which
have been mentioned, however, show the hand of the master and are worthy to
be preserved in the volumes which contain the noble series that began in
the early flush of genius with the brilliant oration in the Plymouth
church, and closed with the words uttered at Washington, under the shadow
of the Capitol, when the light of life was fading and the end of all things
was at hand.



The thorough knowledge of the principles of government and legislation, the
practical statesmanship, and the capacity for debate shown in the State
convention, combined with the splendid oration at Plymouth to make Mr.
Webster the most conspicuous man in New England, with the single exception
of John Quincy Adams. There was, therefore, a strong and general desire
that he should return to public life. He accepted with some reluctance the
nomination to Congress from the Boston district in 1822, and in December,
1823, took his seat.

The six years which had elapsed since Mr. Webster left Washington had been
a period of political quiet. The old parties had ceased to represent any
distinctive principles, and the Federalists scarcely existed as an
organization. Mr. Webster, during this interval, had remained almost wholly
quiescent in regard to public affairs. He had urged the visit of Mr. Monroe
to the North, which had done so much to hasten the inevitable dissolution
of parties. He had received Mr. Calhoun when that gentleman visited
Boston, and their friendship and apparent intimacy were such that the South
Carolinian was thought to be his host's candidate for the presidency.
Except for this and the part which he took in the Boston opposition to the
Missouri compromise and to the tariff, matters to be noticed in connection
with later events, Mr. Webster had held aloof from political conflict.

When he returned to Washington in 1823, the situation was much altered from
that which he had left in 1817. In reality there were no parties, or only
one; but the all-powerful Republicans who had adopted, under the pressure
of foreign war, most of the Federalist principles so obnoxious to Jefferson
and his school, were split up into as many factions as there were
candidates for the presidency. It was a period of transition in which
personal politics had taken the place of those founded on opposing
principles, and this "era of good feeling" was marked by the intense
bitterness of the conflicts produced by these personal rivalries. In
addition to the factions which were battling for the control of the
Republican party and for the great prize of the presidency, there was still
another faction, composed of the old Federalists, who, although without
organization, still held to their name and their prejudices, and clung
together more as a matter of habit than with any practical object. Mr.
Webster had been one of the Federalist leaders in the old days, and when
he returned to public life with all the distinction which he had won in
other fields, he was at once recognized as the chief and head of all that
now remained of the great party of Washington and Hamilton. No Federalist
could hope to be President, and for this very reason Federalist support was
eagerly sought by all Republican candidates for the presidency. The favor
of Mr. Webster as the head of an independent and necessarily disinterested
faction was, of course, strongly desired in many quarters. His political
position and his high reputation as a lawyer, orator, and statesman made
him, therefore, a character of the first importance in Washington, a fact
to which Mr. Clay at once gave public recognition by placing his future
rival at the head of the Judiciary Committee of the House.

The six years of congressional life which now ensued were among the most
useful if not the most brilliant in Mr. Webster's whole public career. He
was free from the annoyance of opposition at home, and was twice returned
by a practically unanimous popular vote. He held a commanding and
influential and at the same time a thoroughly independent position in
Washington, where he was regarded as the first man on the floor of the
House in point of ability and reputation. He was not only able to show his
great capacity for practical legislation, but he was at liberty to advance
his own views on public questions in his own way, unburdened by the outside
influences of party and of association which had affected him so much in
his previous term of service and were soon to reassert their sway in all
his subsequent career.

His return to Congress was at once signalized by a great speech, which,
although of no practical or immediate moment, deserves careful attention
from the light which it throws on the workings of his mind and the
development of his opinions in regard to his country. The House had been in
session but a few days when Mr. Webster offered a resolution in favor of
providing by law for the expenses incident to the appointment of a
commissioner to Greece, should the President deem such an appointment
expedient. The Greeks were then in the throes of revolution, and the
sympathy for the heirs of so much glory in their struggle for freedom was
strong among the American people. When Mr. Webster rose on January 19,
1824, to move the adoption of the resolution which he had laid upon the
table of the House, the chamber was crowded and the galleries were filled
by a large and fashionable audience attracted by the reputation of the
orator and the interest felt in his subject. His hearers were disappointed
if they expected a great rhetorical display, for which the nature of the
subject and the classic memories clustering about it offered such strong
temptations. Mr. Webster did not rise for that purpose, nor to make
capital by an appeal to a temporary popular interest. His speech was for a
wholly different purpose. It was the first expression of that grand
conception of the American Union which had vaguely excited his youthful
enthusiasm. This conception had now come to be part of his intellectual
being, and then and always stirred his imagination and his affections to
their inmost depths. It embodied the principle from which he never swerved,
and led to all that he represents and to all that his influence means in
our history.

As the first expression of his conception of the destiny of the United
States as a great and united nation, Mr. Webster was, naturally, "more fond
of this child" than of any other of his intellectual family. The speech
itself was a noble one, but it was an eloquent essay rather than a great
example of the oratory of debate. This description can in no other case be
applied to Mr. Webster's parliamentary efforts, but in this instance it is
correct, because the occasion justified such a form. Mr. Webster's purpose
was to show that, though the true policy of the United States absolutely
debarred them from taking any part in the affairs of Europe, yet they had
an important duty to perform in exercising their proper influence on the
public opinion of the world. Europe was then struggling with the monstrous
principles of the "Holy Alliance." Those principles Mr. Webster reviewed
historically. He showed their pernicious tendency, their hostility to all
modern theories of government, and their especial opposition to the
principles of American liberty. If the doctrines of the Congress of Laybach
were right and could be made to prevail, then those of America were wrong
and the systems of popular government adopted in the United States were
doomed. Against such infamous principles it behooved the people of the
United States to raise their voice. Mr. Webster sketched the history of
Greece, and made a fine appeal to Americans to give an expression of their
sympathy to a people struggling for freedom. He proclaimed, so that all men
might hear, the true duty of the United States toward the oppressed of any
land, and the responsibility which they held to exert their influence upon
the opinions of mankind. The national destiny of his country in regard to
other nations was his theme; to give to the glittering declaration of
Canning, that he would "call in the new world to redress the balance of the
old," a deep and real significance was his object.

The speech touched Mr. Clay to the quick. He supported Mr. Webster's
resolution with all the ardor of his generous nature, and supplemented it
by another against the interference of Spain in South America. A stormy
debate followed, vivified by the flings and taunts of John Randolph, but
the unwillingness to take action was so great that Mr. Webster did not
press his resolution to a vote. He had at the outset looked for a practical
result from his resolution, and had desired the appointment of Mr. Everett
as commissioner, a plan in which he had been encouraged by Mr. Calhoun, who
had given him to understand that the Executive regarded the Greek mission
with favor. Before he delivered his speech he became aware that Calhoun had
misled him, that Mr. Adams, the Secretary of State, considered Everett too
much of a partisan, and that the administration was wholly averse to any
action in the premises. This destroyed all hope of a practical result, and
made an adverse vote certain. The only course was to avoid a decision and
trust to what he said for an effect on public opinion. The real purpose of
the speech, however, was achieved. Mr. Webster had exposed and denounced
the Holy Alliance as hostile to the liberties of mankind, and had declared
the unalterable enmity of the United States to its reactionary doctrines.
The speech was widely read, not only wherever English was spoken, but it
was translated into all the languages of Europe, and was circulated
throughout South America. It increased Mr. Webster's fame at home and laid
the foundation of his reputation abroad. Above all, it stamped him as a
statesman of a broad and national cast of mind.

He now settled down to hard and continuous labor at the routine business
of the House, and it was not until the end of March that he had occasion to
make another elaborate and important speech. At that time Mr. Clay took up
the bill for laying certain protective duties and advocated it strenuously
as part of a general and steady policy which he then christened with the
name of "the American system." Against this bill, known as the tariff of
1824, Mr. Webster made, as Mr. Adams wrote in his diary at the time, "an
able and powerful speech," which can be more properly considered when we
come to his change of position on this question a few years later.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the affairs of the national courts
were his particular care. Western expansion demanded an increased number of
judges for the circuits, but, unfortunately, decisions in certain recent
cases had offended the sensibilities of Virginia and Kentucky, and there
was a renewal of the old Jeffersonian efforts to limit the authority of the
Supreme Court. Instead of being able to improve, he was obliged to defend
the court, and this he did successfully, defeating all attempts to curtail
its power by alterations of the act of 1789. These duties and that of
investigating the charges brought by Ninian Edwards against Mr. Crawford,
the Secretary of the Treasury, made the session an unusually laborious one,
and detained Mr. Webster in Washington until midsummer.

The short session of the next winter was of course marked by the
excitement attendant upon the settlement of the presidential election which
resulted in the choice of Mr. John Quincy Adams by the House of
Representatives. The intense agitation in political circles did not,
however, prevent Mr. Webster from delivering one very important speech, nor
from carrying through successfully one of the most important and
practically useful measures of his legislative career. The speech was
delivered in the debate on the bill for continuing the national Cumberland
road. Mr. Webster had already, many years before, defined his position on
the constitutional question involved in internal improvements. He now, in
response to Mr. McDuffie of South Carolina, who denounced the measure as
partial and sectional, not merely defended the principle of internal
improvements, but declared that it was a policy to be pursued only with the
purest national feeling. It was not the business of Congress, he said, to
legislate for this State or that, or to balance local interests, and
because they helped one region to help another, but to act for the benefit
of all the States united, and in making improvements to be guided only by
their necessity. He showed that these roads would open up the West to
settlement, and incidentally defended the policy of selling the public
lands at a low price as an encouragement to emigration, telling his
Southern friends very plainly that they could not expect to coerce the
course of population in favor of their own section. The whole speech was
conceived in the broadest and wisest spirit, and marks another step in the
development of Mr. Webster as a national statesman. It increased his
reputation, and brought to him a great accession of popularity in the West.

The measure which he carried through was the famous "Crimes Act," perhaps
the best monument that there is of his legislative and constructive
ability. The criminal law of the United States had scarcely been touched
since the days of the first Congress, and was very defective and
unsatisfactory. Mr. Webster's first task, in which he received most
essential and valuable though unacknowledged assistance from Judge Story,
was to codify and digest the whole body of criminal law. This done, the
hardly less difficult undertaking followed of carrying the measure through
Congress. In the latter, Mr. Webster, by his skill in debate and
familiarity with his subject, and by his influence in the House, was
perfectly successful. That he and Judge Story did their work well in
perfecting the bill is shown by the admirable manner in which the Act stood
the test of time and experience.

When the new Congress came together in 1825, Mr. Webster at once turned his
attention to the improvement of the Judiciary, which he had been obliged to
postpone in order to ward off the attacks upon the court. After much
deliberation and thought, aided by Judge Story, and having made some
concessions to his committee, he brought in a bill increasing the Supreme
Court judges to ten, making ten instead of seven circuits, and providing
that six judges should constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.
Although not a party question, the measure excited much opposition, and was
more than a month in passing through the House. Mr. Webster supported it at
every stage with great ability, and his two most important speeches, which
are in their way models for the treatment of such a subject, are preserved
in his works. The bill was carried by his great strength in debate and by
height of forcible argument. But in the Senate, where it was deprived of
the guardianship of its author, it hung along in uncertainty, and was
finally lost through the apathy or opposition of those very Western members
for whose benefit it had been devised. Mr. Webster took its ultimate defeat
very coolly. The Eastern States did not require it, and were perfectly
contented with the existing arrangements, and he was entirely satisfied
with the assurance that the best lawyers and wisest men approved the
principles of the bill. The time and thought which he had expended were not
wasted so far as he was personally concerned, for they served to enhance
his influence and reputation both as a lawyer and statesman.

This session brought with it also occasions for debate other than those
which were offered by measures of purely legislative and practical
interest. The administration of Mr. Adams marks the close of the "era of
good feeling," as it was called, and sowed the germs of those divisions
which were soon to result in new and definite party combinations. Mr. Adams
and Mr. Clay represented the conservative and General Jackson and his
friends the radical or democratic elements in the now all-embracing
Republican party. It was inevitable that Mr. Webster should sympathize with
the former, and it was equally inevitable that in doing so he should become
the leader of the administration forces in the House, where "his great and
commanding influence," to quote the words of an opponent, made him a host
himself. The desire of Mr. Adams to send representatives to the Panama
Congress, a scheme which lay very near his heart and to which Mr. Clay was
equally attached, encountered a bitter and factious resistance in the
Senate, sufficient to deprive the measure of any real utility by delaying
its passage. In the House a resolution was introduced declaring simply that
it was expedient to appropriate money to defray the expenses of the
proposed mission. The opposition at once undertook by amendments to
instruct the ministers, and generally to go beyond the powers of the House.
The real ground of the attack was slavery, threatened, as was supposed, by
the attitude of the South American republics--a fact which no one
understood or cared to recognize. Mr. Webster stood forth as the champion
of the Executive. In an elaborate speech of great ability he denounced the
unconstitutional attempt to interfere with the prerogative of the
President, and discussed with much effect the treaty-making power assailed
on another famous occasion, many years before, by the South, and defended
at that time also by the eloquence of a representative of Massachusetts.
Mr. Webster showed the nature of the Panama Congress, defended its objects
and the policy of the administration, and made a full and fine exposition
of the intent of the "Monroe doctrine." The speech was an important and
effective one. It exhibited in an exceptional way Mr. Webster's capacity
for discussing large questions of public and constitutional law and foreign
policy, and was of essential service to the cause which he espoused. It was
imbued, too, with that sentiment of national unity which occupied a larger
space in his thoughts with each succeeding year, until it finally pervaded
his whole career as a public man.

At the second session of the same Congress, after a vain effort to confer
upon the country the benefit of a national bankrupt law, Mr. Webster was
again called upon to defend the Executive in a much more heated conflict
than that aroused by the Panama resolution. Georgia was engaged in
oppressing and robbing the Creek Indians, in open contempt of the treaties
and obligations of the United States. Mr. Adams sent in a message reciting
the facts and hinting pretty plainly that he intended to carry out the laws
by force unless Georgia desisted. The message was received with great wrath
by the Southern members. They objected to any reference to a committee, and
Mr. Forsyth of Georgia declared the whole business to be "base and
infamous," while a gentleman from Mississippi announced that Georgia would
act as she pleased. Mr. Webster, having said that she would do so at her
peril, was savagely attacked as the organ of the administration, daring to
menace and insult a sovereign State. This stirred Mr. Webster, although
slow to anger, to a determination to carry through the reference at all
hazards. He said:--

     "He would tell the gentleman from Georgia that if there were rights
     of the Indians which the United States were bound to protect, that
     there were those in the House and in the country who would take
     their part. If we have bound ourselves by any treaty to do certain
     things, we must fulfil such obligation. High words will not terrify
     us, loud declamation will not deter us from the discharge of that
     duty. In my own course in this matter I shall not be dictated to by
     any State or the representative of any State on this floor. I shall
     not be frightened from my purpose nor will I suffer harsh language
     to produce any reaction on my mind. I will examine with great and
     equal care all the rights of both parties.... I have made these few
     remarks to give the gentleman from Georgia to understand that it
     was not by bold denunciation nor by bold assumption that the
     members of this House are to be influenced in the decision of high
     public concerns."

When Mr. Webster was thoroughly roused and indignant there was a darkness
in his face and a gleam of dusky light in his deep-set eyes which were not
altogether pleasant to contemplate. How well Mr. Forsyth and his friends
bore the words and look of Mr. Webster we have no means of knowing, but the
message was referred to a select committee without a division. The interest
to us in all this is the spirit in which Mr. Webster spoke. He loved the
Union as intensely then as at any period of his life, but he was still far
distant from the frame of mind which induced him to think that his devotion
to the Union would be best expressed and the cause of the Union best served
by mildness toward the South and rebuke to the North. He believed in 1826
that dignified courage and firm language were the surest means of keeping
the peace. He was quite right then, and he would have been always right if
he had adhered to the plain words and determined manner to which he treated
Mr. Forsyth and his friends.

This session was crowded with work of varying importance, but the close of
Mr. Webster's career in the lower House was near at hand. The failing
health of Mr. E.H. Mills made it certain that Massachusetts would soon have
a vacant seat in the Senate, and every one turned to Mr. Webster as the
person above all others entitled to this high office. He himself was by no
means so quick in determining to accept the position. He would not even
think of it until the impossibility of Mr. Mills's return was assured, and
then he had to meet the opposition of the administration and all its
friends, who regarded with alarm the prospect of losing such a tower of
strength in the House. Mr. Webster, indeed, felt that he could render the
best service in the lower branch, and urged the senatorship upon Governor
Lincoln, who was elected, but declined. After this there seemed to be no
escape from a manifest destiny. Despite the opposition of his friends in
Washington, and his own reluctance, he finally accepted the office of
United States senator, which was conferred upon him by the Legislature of
Massachusetts in June, 1827.

In tracing the labors of Mr. Webster during three years spent in the lower
House, no allusion has been made to the purely political side of his career
at this time, nor to his relations with the public men of the day. The
period was important, generally speaking, because it showed the first signs
of the development of new parties, and to Mr. Webster in particular,
because it brought him gradually toward the political and party position
which he was to occupy during the rest of his life. When he took his seat
in Congress, in the autumn of 1823, the intrigues for the presidential
succession were at their height. Mr. Webster was then strongly inclined to
Mr. Calhoun, as was suspected at the time of that gentleman's visit to
Boston. He soon became convinced, however, that Mr. Calhoun's chances of
success were slight, and his good opinion of the distinguished South
Carolinian seems also to have declined. It was out of the question for a
man of Mr. Webster's temperament and habits of thought, to think for a
moment of supporting Jackson, a candidate on the ground of military glory
and unreflecting popular enthusiasm. Mr. Adams, as the representative of
New England, and as a conservative and trained statesman, was the natural
and proper candidate to receive the aid of Mr. Webster. But here party
feelings and traditions stepped in. The Federalists of New England had
hated Mr. Adams with the peculiar bitterness which always grows out of
domestic quarrels, whether in public or private life; and although the old
strife had sunk a little out of sight, it had never been healed. The
Federalist leaders in Massachusetts still disliked and distrusted Mr. Adams
with an intensity none the less real because it was concealed. In the
nature of things Mr. Webster now occupied a position of political
independence; but he had been a steady party man when his party was in
existence, and he was still a party man so far as the old Federalist
feelings retained vitality and force. He had, moreover, but a slight
personal acquaintance with Mr. Adams and no very cordial feeling toward
him. This disposed of three presidential candidates. The fourth was Mr.
Clay, and it is not very clear why Mr. Webster refused an alliance in this
quarter. Mr. Clay had treated him with consideration, they were personal
friends, their opinions were not dissimilar and were becoming constantly
more alike. Possibly there was an instinctive feeling of rivalry on this
very account. At all events, Mr. Webster would not support Clay. Only one
candidate remained: Mr. Crawford, the representative of all that was
extreme among the Republicans, and, in a party sense, most odious to the
Federalists. But it was a time when personal factions flourished rankly in
the absence of broad differences of principle. Mr. Crawford was bidding
furiously for support in every and any quarter, and to Mr. Crawford,
accordingly, Mr. Webster began to look as a possible leader for himself and
his friends. Just how far Mr. Webster went in this direction cannot be
readily or surely determined, although we get some light on the subject
from an attack made on Mr. Crawford just at this time. Ninian Edwards,
recently senator from Illinois, had a quarrel with Mr. Crawford, and sent
in a memorial to Congress containing charges against the Secretary of the
Treasury which were designed to break him down as a candidate for the
presidency. Of the merits of this quarrel it is not very easy to judge,
even if it were important. The character of Edwards was none of the best,
and Mr. Crawford had unquestionably made a highly unscrupulous use,
politically, of his position. The members of the administration, although
with no great love for Edwards, who had been appointed Minister to Mexico,
were distinctly hostile to Mr. Crawford, and refused to attend a dinner
from which Edwards had been expressly excluded. Mr. Webster's part in the
affair came from his being on the committee charged with the investigation
of the Edwards memorial. Mr. Adams, who was of course excited by the
presidential contest, disposed to regard his rivals with extreme disfavor,
and especially and justly suspicious of Mr. Crawford, speaks of Mr.
Webster's conduct in the matter with the utmost bitterness. He refers to it
again and again as an attempt to screen Crawford and break down Edwards,
and denounces Mr. Webster as false, insidious, and treacherous. Much of
this may be credited to the heated animosities of the moment, but there can
be no doubt that Mr. Webster took the matter into his own hands in the
committee, and made every effort to protect Mr. Crawford, in whose favor he
also spoke in the House. It is likewise certain that there was an attempt
to bring about an alliance between Crawford and the Federalists of the
North and East. The effort was abortive, and even before the conclusion of
the Edwards business Mr. Webster avowed that he should take but little part
in the election, and that his only purpose was to secure the best terms
possible for the Federalists, and obtain recognition for them from the next
administration. At that time he wished Mr. Mason to be attorney-general,
and had already turned his thoughts toward the English mission for himself.

To this waiting policy he adhered, but when the popular election was over,
and the final decision had been thrown into the House of Representatives,
more definite action became necessary. From the questions which he put to
his brother and others as to the course which he ought to pursue in the
election by the House, it is obvious that he was far from anxious to secure
the choice of Mr. Adams, and was weighing carefully other contingencies.
The feeling of New England could not, however, be mistaken. Public opinion
there demanded that the members of the House should stand by the New
England candidate to the last. To this sentiment Mr. Webster submitted, and
soon afterwards took occasion to have an interview with Mr. Adams in order
to make the best terms possible for the Federalists, and obtain for them
suitable recognition. Mr. Adams assured Mr. Webster that he did not intend
to proscribe any section or any party, and added that although he could not
give the Federalists representation in the cabinet, he should give them one
of the important appointments. Mr. Webster was entirely satisfied with this
promise and with all that was said by Mr. Adams, who, as everybody knows,
was soon after elected by the House on the first ballot.

Mr. Adams on his side saw plainly the necessity of conciliating Mr.
Webster, whose great ability and influence he thoroughly understood. He
told Mr. Clay that he had a high opinion of Mr. Webster, and wished to win
his support; and the savage tone displayed in regard to the Edwards affair
now disappears from the Diary. Mr. Adams, however, although he knew, as he
says, that "Webster was panting for the English mission," and hinted that
the wish might be gratified hereafter, was not ready to go so far at the
moment, and at the same time he sought to dissuade Mr. Webster from being a
candidate for the speakership, for which in truth the latter had no
inclination. Their relations, indeed, soon grew very pleasant. Mr. Webster
naturally became the leader of the administration forces in the House,
while the President on his side sought Mr. Webster's advice, admired his
oration on Adams and Jefferson, dined at his house, and lived on terms of
friendship and confidence with him. It is to be feared, however, that all
this was merely on the surface. Mr. Adams at the bottom of his heart never,
in reality, relaxed in his belief that Mr. Webster was morally unsound. Mr.
Webster, on the other hand, whose Federalist opposition to Mr. Adams had
only been temporarily allayed, was not long in coming to the conclusion
that his services, if appreciated, were not properly recognized by the
administration. There was a good deal of justice in this view. The English
mission never came, no help was to be obtained for Mr. Mason's election as
senator from New Hampshire, the speakership was to be refused in order to
promote harmony and strength in the House. To all this Mr. Webster
submitted, and fought the battles of the administration in debate as no one
else could have done. Nevertheless, all men like recognition, and Mr.
Webster would have preferred something more solid than words and confidence
or the triumph of a common cause. When the Massachusetts senatorship was in
question Mr. Adams urged the election of Governor Lincoln, and objected on
the most flattering grounds to Mr. Webster's withdrawal from the House. It
is not a too violent conjecture to suppose that Mr. Webster's final
acceptance of a seat in the Senate was due in large measure to a feeling
that he had sacrificed enough for the administration. There can be no doubt
that coolness grew between the President and the Senator, and that the
appointment to England, if still desired, never was made, so that when the
next election came on Mr. Webster was inactive, and, despite his hostility
to Jackson, viewed the overthrow of Mr. Adams with a good deal of
indifference and some satisfaction. It is none the less true, however, that
during these years when the first foundations of the future Whig party were
laid, Mr. Webster formed the political affiliations which were to last
through life. He inevitably found himself associated with Clay and Adams,
and opposed to Jackson, Benton, and Van Buren, while at the same time he
and Calhoun were fast drifting apart. He had no specially cordial feeling
to his new associates; but they were at the head of the conservative
elements of the country, they were nationalists in policy, and they favored
the views which were most affected in New England. As a conservative and
nationalist by nature and education, and as the great New England leader,
Mr. Webster could not avoid becoming the parliamentary chief of Mr. Adams's
administration, and thus paved the way for leadership in the Whig party of
the future.

In narrating the history of these years, I have confined myself to Mr.
Webster's public services and political course. But it was a period in his
career which was crowded with work and achievement, bringing fresh fame and
increased reputation, and also with domestic events both of joy and sorrow.
Mr. Webster steadily pursued the practice of the law, and was constantly
engaged in the Supreme Court. To these years belong many of his great
arguments, and also the prosecution of the Spanish claims, a task at once
laborious and profitable. In the summer of 1824 Mr. Webster first saw
Marshfield, his future home, and in the autumn of the same year he visited
Monticello, where he had a long interview with Mr. Jefferson, of whom he
has left a most interesting description. During the winter he formed the
acquaintance and lived much in the society of some well-known Englishmen
then travelling in this country. This party consisted of the Earl of Derby,
then Mr. Stanley, Lord Wharncliffe, then Mr. Stuart Wortley; Lord Taunton,
then Mr. Labouchere, and Mr. Denison, afterwards Speaker of the House of
Commons. With Mr. Denison this acquaintance was the foundation of a lasting
and intimate friendship maintained by correspondence. In June, 1825, came
the splendid oration at Bunker Hill, and then a visit to Niagara, which, of
course, appealed strongly to Mr. Webster. His account of it, however,
although indicative of a deep mental impression, shows that his power of
describing nature fell far short of his wonderful talent for picturing
human passions and action. The next vacation brought the eulogy on Adams
and Jefferson, when perhaps Mr. Webster may be considered to have been in
his highest physical and intellectual perfection. Such at least was the
opinion of Mr. Ticknor, who says:--

     "He was in the perfection of manly beauty and strength; his form
     filled out to its finest proportions, and his bearing, as he stood
     before the vast multitude, that of absolute dignity and power. His
     manner of speaking was deliberate and commanding. I never heard him
     when his manner was so grand and appropriate; ... when he ended the
     minds of men were wrought up to an uncontrollable excitement, and
     then followed three tremendous cheers, inappropriate indeed, but as
     inevitable as any other great movement of nature."

He had held the vast audience mute for over two hours, as John Quincy Adams
said in his diary, and finally their excited feelings found vent in cheers.
He spoke greatly because he felt greatly. His emotions, his imagination,
his entire oratorical temperament were then full of quick sensibility. When
he finished writing the imaginary speech of John Adams in the quiet of his
library and the silence of the morning hour, his eyes were wet with tears.

A year passed by after this splendid display of eloquence, and then the
second congressional period, which had been so full of work and
intellectual activity and well-earned distinction, closed, and he entered
upon that broader field which opened to him in the Senate of the United
States, where his greatest triumphs were still to be achieved.



The new dignity conferred on Mr. Webster by the people of Massachusetts had
hardly been assumed when he was called upon to encounter a trial which must
have made all his honors seem poor indeed. He had scarcely taken his seat
when he was obliged to return to New York, where failing health had
arrested Mrs. Webster's journey to the capital, and where, after much
suffering, she died, January 21, 1828. The blow fell with terrible severity
upon her husband. He had many sorrows to bear during his life, but this
surpassed all others. His wife was the love of his youth, the mother of his
children, a lovely woman whose strong but gentle influence for good was now
lost to him irreparably. In his last days his thoughts reverted to her, and
as he followed her body to the grave, on foot in the wet and cold, and
leading his children by the hand, it must indeed have seemed as if the wine
of life had been drunk and only the lees remained. He was excessively pale,
and to those who looked upon him seemed crushed and heart-broken.

The only relief was to return to his work and to the excitement of public
affairs; but the cloud hung over him long after he was once more in his
place in the Senate. Death had made a wound in his life which time healed
but of which the scar remained. Whatever were Mr. Webster's faults, his
affection for those nearest to him, and especially for the wife of his
youth, was deep and strong.

     "The very first day of Mr. Webster's arrival and taking his seat in
     the Senate," Judge Story writes to Mr. Ticknor, "there was a
     process bill on its third reading, filled, as he thought, with
     inconvenient and mischievous provisions. He made, in a modest
     undertone, some inquiries, and, upon an answer being given, he
     expressed in a few words his doubts and fears. Immediately Mr.
     Tazewell from Virginia broke out upon him in a speech of two hours.
     Mr. Webster then moved an adjournment, and on the next day
     delivered a most masterly speech in reply, expounding the whole
     operation of the intended act in the clearest manner, so that a
     recommitment was carried almost without an effort. It was a triumph
     of the most gratifying nature, and taught his opponents the danger
     of provoking a trial of his strength, even when he was overwhelmed
     by calamity. In the labors of the court he has found it difficult
     to work himself up to high efforts; but occasionally he comes out
     with all his powers, and when he does, it is sure to attract a
     brilliant audience."

It would be impossible to give a better picture than that presented by
Judge Story of Mr. Webster's appearance and conduct in the month
immediately following the death of his wife. We can see how his talents,
excited by the conflicts of the Senate and the court, struggled, sometimes
successfully, sometimes in vain, with the sense of loss and sorrow which
oppressed him.

He did not again come prominently forward in the Senate until the end of
April, when he roused himself to prevent injustice. The bill for the relief
of the surviving officers of the Revolution seemed on the point of being
lost. The object of the measure appealed to Mr. Webster's love for the
past, to his imagination, and his patriotism. He entered into the debate,
delivered the fine and dignified speech which is preserved in his works,
and saved the bill.

A fortnight after this he made his famous speech on the tariff of 1828, a
bill making extensive changes in the rates of duties imposed in 1816 and
1824. This speech marks an important change in Mr. Webster's views and in
his course as a statesman. He now gave up his position as the ablest
opponent in the country of the protective policy, and went over to the
support of the tariff and the "American system" of Mr. Clay. This change,
in every way of great importance, subjected Mr. Webster to severe criticism
both then and subsequently. It is, therefore, necessary to examine briefly
his previous utterances on this question in order to reach a correct
understanding of his motives in taking this important step and to
appreciate his reasons for the adoption of a policy with which, after the
year 1828, he was so closely identified.

When Mr. Webster first entered Congress he was a thorough-going Federalist.
But the Federalists of New England differed from their great chief,
Alexander Hamilton, on the question of a protective policy. Hamilton, in
his report on manufactures, advocated with consummate ability the adoption
of the principle of protection for nascent industries as an integral and
essential part of a true national policy, and urged it on its own merits,
without any reference to its being incident to revenue. The New England
Federalists, on the other hand, coming from exclusively commercial
communities, were in principle free-traders. They regarded with disfavor
the doctrine that protection was a good thing in itself, and desired it, if
at all, only in the most limited form and purely as an incident to raising
revenue. With these opinions Mr. Webster was in full sympathy, and he took
occasion when Mr. Calhoun, in 1814, spoke in favor of the existing double
duties as a protective measure, and also in favor of manufactures, during
the debate on the repeal of the embargo, to define his position on this
important question. A few brief extracts will show his views, which were
expressed very clearly and with his wonted ability and force.

     "I consider," he said, "the imposition of double duties as a mere
     financial measure. Its great object was to raise revenue, not to
     foster manufactures.... I do not say the double duties ought to be
     continued. I think they ought not. But what I particularly object
     to is the holding out of delusive expectations to those concerned
     in manufactures.... In respect to manufactures it is necessary to
     speak with some precision. I am not, generally speaking, their
     enemy. I am their friend; but I am not for rearing them or any
     other interest in hot-beds. I would not legislate precipitately,
     even in favor of them; above all, I would not profess intentions in
     relation to them which I did not purpose to execute. I feel no
     desire to push capital into extensive manufactures faster than the
     general progress of our wealth and population propels it.

     "I am not in haste to see Sheffields and Birminghams in America.
     Until the population of the country shall be greater in proportion
     to its extent, such establishments would be impracticable if
     attempted, and if practicable they would be unwise."

He then pointed out the inferiority and the perils of manufactures as an
occupation in comparison with agriculture, and concluded as follows:--

     "I am not anxious to accelerate the approach of the period when the
     great mass of American labor shall not find its employment in the
     field; when the young men of the country shall be obliged to shut
     their eyes upon external nature, upon the heavens and the earth,
     and immerse themselves in close and unwholesome workshops; when
     they shall be obliged to shut their ears to the bleatings of their
     own flocks upon their own hills, and to the voice of the lark that
     cheers them at the plough, that they may open them in dust and
     smoke and steam to the perpetual whirl of spools and spindles, and
     the grating of rasps and saws. I have made these remarks, sir, not
     because I perceive any immediate danger of carrying our
     manufactures to an extensive height, but for the purpose of
     guarding and limiting my opinions, and of checking, perhaps, a
     little the high-wrought hopes of some who seem to look to our
     present infant establishments for 'more than their nature or their
     state can bear.'

     "_It is the true policy of government to suffer the different
     pursuits of society to take their own course, and not to give
     excessive bounties or encouragements to one over another. This,
     also, is the true spirit of the Constitution. It has not, in my
     opinion, conferred on the government the power of changing the
     occupations of the people of different States and sections, and of
     forcing them into other employments._ It cannot prohibit commerce
     any more than agriculture, nor manufactures any more than commerce.
     It owes protection to all."

The sentences in italics constitute a pretty strong and explicit statement
of the _laissez faire_ doctrine, and it will be observed that the tone of
all the extracts is favorable to free trade and hostile to protection and
even to manufactures in a marked degree. We see, also, that Mr. Webster,
with his usual penetration and justice of perception, saw very clearly that
uniformity and steadiness of policy were more essential than even the
policy itself, and in his opinion were most likely to be attained by
refraining from protection as much as possible.

When the tariff of 1816 was under discussion Mr. Webster made no elaborate
speech against it, probably feeling that it was hopeless to attempt to
defeat the measure as a whole, but he devoted himself with almost complete
success to the task of reducing the proposed duties and to securing
modifications of various portions of the bill.

In 1820, when the tariff recommended at the previous session was about to
come before Congress, Mr. Webster was not in public life. He attended,
however, a meeting of merchants and agriculturists, held in Faneuil Hall in
the summer of that year, to protest against the proposed tariff, and he
spoke strongly in favor of the free trade resolutions which were then
adopted. He began by saying that he was a friend to manufactures, but not
to the tariff, which he considered as most injurious to the country.

     "He certainly thought it might be doubted whether Congress would
     not be acting somewhat against the spirit and intention of the
     Constitution in exercising a power to control essentially the
     pursuits and occupations of individuals in their private
     concerns--a power to force great and sudden changes both of
     occupation and property upon individuals, _not as incidental to the
     exercise of any other power, but as a substantial and direct

It will be observed that he objects to the constitutionality of protection
as a "direct power," and in the speech of 1814, in the portion quoted in
italics, he declared against any general power still more forcibly and
broadly. It is an impossible piece of subtlety and refining, therefore, to
argue that Mr. Webster always held consistently to his views as to the
limitations of the revenue power as a source of protection, and that he put
protection in 1828, and subsequently sustained it after his change of
position, on new and general constitutional grounds. In the speeches of
1814 and 1820 he declared expressly against the doctrine of a general power
of protection, saying, in the latter instance:--

     "It would hardly be contended that Congress possessed that sort of
     general power by which it might declare that particular occupations
     should be pursued in society and that others should not. _If such
     power belonged to any government in this country, it certainly did
     not belong to the general government._"

Mr. Webster took the New England position that there was no general power,
and having so declared in this speech of 1820, he then went on to show that
protection could only come as incidental to revenue, and that, even in this
way, it became unconstitutional when the incident was turned into the
principle and when protection and not revenue was the object of the duties.
After arguing this point, he proceeded to discuss the general expediency
of protection, holding it up as a thoroughly mistaken policy, a failure in
England which that country would gladly be rid of, and defending commerce
as the truest and best support of the government and of general prosperity.
He took up next the immediate effects of the proposed tariff, and,
premising that it would confessedly cause a diminution of the revenue,

     "In truth, every man in the community not immediately benefited by
     the new duties would suffer a double loss. In the first place, by
     shutting out the former commodity, the price of the domestic
     manufacture would be raised. The consumer, therefore, must pay more
     for it, and insomuch as government will have lost the duty on the
     imported article, a tax equal to that duty must be paid to the
     government. The real amount, then, of this bounty on a given
     article will be precisely the amount of the present duty added to
     the amount of the proposed duty."

He then went on to show the injustice which would be done to all
manufacturers of unprotected articles, and ridiculed the idea of the
connection between home industries artificially developed and national
independence. He concluded by assailing manufacturing as an occupation,
attacking it as a means of making the rich richer and the poor poorer; of
injuring business by concentrating capital in the hands of a few who
obtained control of the corporations; of distributing capital less widely
than commerce; of breeding up a dangerous and undesirable population; and
of leading to the hurtful employment of women and children. The meeting,
the resolutions, and the speech were all in the interests of commerce and
free trade, and Mr. Webster's doctrines were on the most approved pattern
of New England Federalism, which, professing a mild friendship for
manufactures and unwillingly conceding the minimum of protection solely as
an incident to revenue, was, at bottom, thoroughly hostile to both. In 1820
Mr. Webster stood forth, both politically and constitutionally, as a
free-trader, moderate but at the same time decided in his opinions.

When the tariff of 1824 was brought before Congress and advocated with
great zeal by Mr. Clay, who upheld it as the "American system," Mr. Webster
opposed the policy in the fullest and most elaborate speech he had yet made
on the subject. A distinguished American economist, Mr. Edward Atkinson,
has described this speech of 1824 briefly and exactly in the following

     "It contains a refutation of the exploded theory of the balance of
     trade, of the fallacy with regard to the exportation of specie, and
     of the claim that the policy of protection is distinctively the
     American policy which can never be improved upon, and it indicates
     how thoroughly his judgment approved and his better nature
     sympathized with the movement towards enlightened and liberal
     commercial legislation, then already commenced in Great Britain."

This speech was in truth one of great ability, showing a remarkable
capacity for questions of political economy, and opening with an admirable
discussion of the currency and of finance, in regard to which Mr. Webster
always held and advanced the soundest, most scientific, and most
enlightened views. Now, as in 1820, he stood forth as the especial champion
of commerce, which, as he said, had thriven without protection, had brought
revenue to the government and wealth to the country, and would be
grievously injured by the proposed tariff. He made his principal objection
to the protection policy on the ground of favoritism to some interests at
the expense of others when all were entitled to equal consideration. Of
England he said, "Because a thing has been wrongly done, it does not follow
that it can be undone; and this is the reason, as I understand it, for
which exclusion, prohibition, and monopoly are suffered to remain in any
degree in the English system." After examining at length the different
varieties of protection, and displaying very thoroughly the state of
current English opinion, he defined the position which he, in common with
the Federalists of New England, then as always adhered to in the following

     "Protection, when carried to the point which is now recommended,
     that is, to entire prohibition, seems to me destructive of all
     commercial intercourse between nations. We are urged to adopt the
     system on general principles; ... I do not admit the general
     principle; on the contrary, I think freedom of trade the general
     principle, and restriction the exception."

He pointed out that the proposed protective policy involved a decline of
commerce, and that steadiness and uniformity, the most essential requisites
in any policy, were endangered. He then with great power dealt with the
various points summarized by Mr. Atkinson, and concluded with a detailed
and learned examination of the various clauses of the bill, which finally
passed by a small majority and became law.

In 1828 came another tariff bill, so bad and so extreme in many respects
that it was called the "bill of abominations." It originated in the
agitation of the woollen manufacturers which had started the year before,
and for this bill Mr. Webster spoke and voted. He changed his ground on
this important question absolutely and entirely, and made no pretence of
doing anything else. The speech which he made on this occasion is a
celebrated one, but it is so solely on account of the startling change of
position which it announced. Mr. Webster has been attacked and defended for
his action at this time with great zeal, and all the constitutional and
economic arguments for and against protection are continually brought
forward in this connection. From the tone of the discussion, it is to be
feared that many of those who are interested in the question have not
taken the trouble to read what he said. The speech of 1828 is by no means
equal in any way to its predecessors in the same field. It is brief and
simple to the last degree. It has not a shred of constitutional argument,
nor does it enter at all into a discussion of general principles. It makes
but one point, and treats that point with great force as the only one to be
made under the circumstances, and thereby presents the single and
sufficient reason for its author's vote. A few lines from the speech give
the marrow of the whole matter. Mr. Webster said:--

     "New England, sir, has not been a leader in this policy. On the
     contrary, she held back herself and tried to hold others back from
     it, from the adoption of the Constitution to 1824. Up to 1824 she
     was accused of sinister and selfish designs, _because she
     discountenanced the progress of this policy_.... Under this angry
     denunciation against her the act of 1824 passed. Now the imputation
     is of a precisely opposite character.... Both charges, sir, are
     equally without the slightest foundation. The opinion of New
     England up to 1824 was founded in the conviction that, on the
     whole, it was wisest and best, both for herself and others, that
     manufactures should make haste slowly.... When, at the commencement
     of the late war, duties were doubled, we were told that we should
     find a mitigation of the weight of taxation in the new aid and
     succor which would be thus afforded to our own manufacturing labor.
     Like arguments were urged, and prevailed, but not by the aid of New
     England votes, when the tariff was afterwards arranged at the
     close of the war in 1816. Finally, after a winter's deliberation,
     the act of 1824 received the sanction of both Houses of Congress
     and settled the policy of the country. What, then, was New England
     to do?... Was she to hold out forever against the course of the
     government, and see herself losing on one side and yet make no
     effort to sustain herself on the other? No, sir. Nothing was left
     to New England but to conform herself to the will of others.
     Nothing was left to her but to consider that the government had
     fixed and determined its own policy; and that policy was
     _protection_.... I believe, sir, almost every man from New England
     who voted against the law of 1824 declared that if, notwithstanding
     his opposition to that law, it should still pass, there would be no
     alternative but to consider the course and policy of the government
     as then settled and fixed, and to act accordingly. The law did
     pass; and a vast increase of investment in manufacturing
     establishments was the consequence."

Opinion in New England changed for good and sufficient business reasons,
and Mr. Webster changed with it. Free trade had commended itself to him as
an abstract principle, and he had sustained and defended it as in the
interest of commercial New England. But when the weight of interest in New
England shifted from free trade to protection Mr. Webster followed it. His
constituents were by no means unanimous in support of the tariff in 1828,
but the majority favored it, and Mr. Webster went with the majority. At a
public dinner given to him in Boston at the close of the session, he
explained to the dissentient minority the reasons for his vote, which were
very simple. He thought that good predominated over evil in the bill, and
that the majority throughout the whole State of which he was the
representative favored the tariff, and therefore he had voted in the

Much fault has been found, as has been said, both at the time and since,
with Mr. Webster's change of position on this question. It has been held up
as a monument of inconsistency, and as indicating a total absence of deep
conviction. That Mr. Webster was, in a certain sense, inconsistent is
beyond doubt, but consistency is the bugbear of small minds, as well as a
mark of strong characters, while its reverse is often the proof of wisdom.
On the other hand, it may be fairly argued that, holding as he did that the
whole thing was purely a business question to be decided according to
circumstances, his course, in view of the policy adopted by the government,
was at bottom perfectly consistent. As to the want of deep conviction, Mr.
Webster's vote on this question proves nothing. He believed in free trade
as an abstract general principle, and there is no reason to suppose that he
ever abandoned his belief on this point. But he had too clear a mind ever
to be run away with by the extreme vagaries of the Manchester school. He
knew that there was no morality, no immutable right and wrong, in an
impost or a free list. It has been the fashion to refer to Mr. Disraeli's
declaration that free trade was "a mere question of expediency" as a proof
of that gentleman's cynical indifference to moral principles. That the late
Earl of Beaconsfield had no deep convictions on any subject may be readily
admitted, but in this instance he uttered a very plain and simple truth,
which all the talk in the world about free trade as the harbinger and
foundation of universal peace on earth, cannot disguise.

Mr. Webster never at any time treated the question of free trade or
protection as anything but one of expediency. Under the lead of Mr.
Calhoun, in 1816, the South and West initiated a protective policy, and
after twelve years it had become firmly established and New England had
adapted herself to it. Mr. Webster, as a New England representative,
resisted the protective policy at the outset as against her interests, but
when she had conformed to the new conditions, he came over to its support
simply on the ground of expediency. He rested the defence of his new
position upon the doctrine which he had always consistently preached, that
uniformity and permanency were the essential and sound conditions of any
policy, whether of free trade or protection. In 1828, neither at the dinner
in Boston nor in the Senate, did he enter into any discussion of general
principles or constitutional theories. He merely said, in substance, You
have chosen to make protection necessary to New England, and therefore I am
now forced to vote for it. This was the position which he continued to hold
to the end of his life. As he was called upon, year after year, to defend
protection, and as New England became more and more wedded to the tariff,
he elaborated his arguments on many points, but the essence of all he said
afterwards is to be found in the speech of 1828. On the constitutional
point he was obliged to make a more violent change. He held, of course, to
his opinion that, under the revenue power, protection could be incidental
only, because from that doctrine there was no escape. But he dropped the
condemnation expressed in 1814 and the doubts uttered in 1820 as to the
theory that it was within the direct power of Congress to enact a
protective tariff, and assumed that they had this right as one of the
general powers in the Constitution, or that at all events they had
exercised it, and that therefore the question was henceforward to be
considered as _res adjudicata_. The speech of 1828 marks the separation of
Mr. Webster from the opinions of the old school of New England Federalism.
Thereafter he stood forth as the champion of the tariff and of the
"American system" of Henry Clay. Regarding protection in its true light, as
a mere question of expediency, he followed the interests of New England
and of the great industrial communities of the North. That he shifted his
ground at the proper moment, bad as the "bill of abominations" was, and
that, as a Northern statesman, he was perfectly justified in doing so,
cannot be fairly questioned or criticised. It is true that his course was a
sectional one, but everybody else's on this question was the same, and it
could not be, it never has been, and never will be otherwise.

The tariff of 1828 was destined indirectly to have far more important
results to Mr. Webster than the brief speech in which he signalized his
change of position on the question of protection. Soon after the passage of
the act, in May, 1828, the South Carolina delegation held a meeting to take
steps to resist the operation of the tariff, but nothing definite was then
accomplished. Popular meetings in South Carolina, characterized by much
violent talk, followed, however, during the summer, and in the autumn the
Legislature of the State put forth the famous "exposition and protest"
which emanated from Mr. Calhoun, and embodied in the fullest and strongest
terms the principles of "nullification." These movements were viewed with
regret and with some alarm throughout the country, but they were rather
lost sight of in the intense excitement of the presidential election. The
accession of Jackson then came to absorb the public attention, and brought
with it the sweeping removals from office which Mr. Webster strongly
denounced. At the same time he was not led into the partisan absurdity of
denying the President's power of removal, and held to the impregnable
position of steady resistance to the evils of patronage, which could be
cured only by the operation of an enlightened public sentiment. It is
obvious now that, in the midst of all this agitation about other matters,
Mr. Calhoun and the South Carolinians never lost sight of the conflict for
which they were preparing, and that they were on the alert to bring
nullification to the front in a more menacing and pronounced fashion than
had yet been attempted.

The grand assault was finally made in the Senate, under the eye of the
great nullifier, who then occupied the chair of the Vice-President, and
came in an unexpected way. In December, 1829, Mr. Foote of Connecticut
introduced a harmless resolution of inquiry respecting the sales and
surveys of the Western lands. In the long-drawn debate which ensued,
General Hayne of South Carolina, on January 19, 1830, made an elaborate
attack on the New England States. He accused them of a desire to check the
growth of the West in the interests of the protective policy, and tried to
show the sympathy which should exist between the West and South, and lead
them to make common cause against the tariff. Mr. Webster felt that this
attack could not be left unanswered, and the next day he replied to it.
This first speech on Foote's resolution has been so obscured by the
greatness of the second that it is seldom referred to and but little read.
Yet it is one of the most effective retorts, one of the strongest pieces of
destructive criticism, ever uttered in the Senate, although its purpose was
simply to repel the charge of hostility to the West on the part of New
England. The accusation was in fact absurd, and but few years had elapsed
since Mr. Webster and New England had been assailed by Mr. McDuffie for
desiring to build up the West at the expense of the South by the policy of
internal improvements. It was not difficult, therefore, to show the
groundlessness of this new attack, but Mr. Webster did it with consummate
art and great force, shattering Hayne's elaborate argument to pieces and
treading it under foot. Mr. Webster only alluded incidentally to the tariff
agitation in South Carolina, but the crushing nature of the reply inflamed
and mortified Mr. Hayne, who, on the following day, insisted on Mr.
Webster's presence, and spoke for the second time at great length. He made
a bitter attack upon New England, upon Mr. Webster personally, and upon the
character and patriotism of Massachusetts. He then made a full exposition
of the doctrine of nullification, giving free expression of the views and
principles entertained by his master and leader, who presided over the
discussion. The debate had now drifted far from the original resolution,
but its real object had been reached at last. The war upon the tariff had
been begun, and the standard of nullification and of resistance to the
Union and to the laws of Congress had been planted boldly in the Senate of
the United States. The debate was adjourned and Mr. Hayne did not conclude
till January 25. The next day Mr. Webster replied in the second speech on
Foote's resolution, which is popularly known as the "Reply to Hayne."

This great speech marks the highest point attained by Mr. Webster as a
public man. He never surpassed it, he never equalled it afterwards. It was
his zenith intellectually, politically, and as an orator. His fame grew and
extended in the years which followed, he won ample distinction in other
fields, he made many other splendid speeches, but he never went beyond the
reply which he made to the Senator from South Carolina on January 26, 1830.

The doctrine of nullification, which was the main point both with Hayne and
Webster, was no new thing. The word was borrowed from the Kentucky
resolutions of 1799, and the principle was contained in the more cautious
phrases of the contemporary Virginia resolutions and of the Hartford
Convention in 1814. The South Carolinian reproduction in 1830 was fuller
and more elaborate than its predecessors and supported by more acute
reasoning, but the principle was unchanged. Mr. Webster's argument was
simple but overwhelming. He admitted fully the right of revolution. He
accepted the proposition that no one was bound to obey an unconstitutional
law; but the essential question was who was to say whether a law was
unconstitutional or not. Each State has that authority, was the reply of
the nullifiers, and if the decision is against the validity of the law it
cannot be executed within the limits of the dissenting State. The vigorous
sarcasm with which Mr. Webster depicted practical nullification, and showed
that it was nothing more or less than revolution when actually carried out,
was really the conclusive answer to the nullifying doctrine. But Mr.
Calhoun and his school eagerly denied that nullification rested on the
right to revolt against oppression. They argued that it was a
constitutional right; that they could live within the Constitution and
beyond it,--inside the house and outside it at one and the same time. They
contended that, the Constitution being a compact between the States, the
Federal government was the creation of the States; yet, in the same breath,
they declared that the general government was a party to the contract from
which it had itself emanated, in order to get rid of the difficulty of
proving that, while the single dissenting State could decide against the
validity of a law, the twenty or more other States, also parties to the
contract, had no right to deliver an opposite judgment which should be
binding as the opinion of the majority of the court. There was nothing very
ingenious or very profound in the argument by which Mr. Webster
demonstrated the absurdity of the doctrine which attempted to make
nullification a peaceable constitutional privilege, when it could be in
practice nothing else than revolution. But the manner in which he put the
argument was magnificent and final. As he himself said, in this very speech
of Samuel Dexter, "his statement was argument, his inference

The weak places in his armor were historical in their nature. It was
probably necessary, at all events Mr. Webster felt it to be so, to argue
that the Constitution at the outset was not a compact between the States,
but a national instrument, and to distinguish the cases of Virginia and
Kentucky in 1799 and of New England in 1814, from that of South Carolina in
1830. The former point he touched upon lightly, the latter he discussed
ably, eloquently, ingeniously, and at length. Unfortunately the facts were
against him in both instances. When the Constitution was adopted by the
votes of States at Philadelphia, and accepted by the votes of States in
popular conventions, it is safe to say that there was not a man in the
country from Washington and Hamilton on the one side, to George Clinton and
George Mason on the other, who regarded the new system as anything but an
experiment entered upon by the States and from which each and every State
had the right peaceably to withdraw, a right which was very likely to be
exercised. When the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions appeared they were
not opposed on constitutional grounds, but on those of expediency and of
hostility to the revolution which they were considered to embody. Hamilton,
and no one knew the Constitution better than he, treated them as the
beginnings of an attempt to change the government, as the germs of a
conspiracy to destroy the Union. As Dr. Von Holst tersely and accurately
states it, "there was no time as yet to attempt to strangle the healthy
human mind in a net of logical deductions." That was the work reserved for
John C. Calhoun.

What is true of 1799 is true of the New England leaders at Washington when
they discussed the feasibility of secession in 1804; of the declaration in
favor of secession made by Josiah Quincy in Congress a few years later; of
the resistance of New England during the war of 1812, and of the right of
"interposition" set forth by the Hartford Convention. In all these
instances no one troubled himself about the constitutional aspect; it was a
question of expediency, of moral and political right or wrong. In every
case the right was simply stated, and the uniform answer was, such a step
means the overthrow of the present system.

When South Carolina began her resistance to the tariff in 1830, times had
changed, and with them the popular conception of the government established
by the Constitution. It was now a much more serious thing to threaten the
existence of the Federal government than it had been in 1799, or even in
1814. The great fabric which had been gradually built up made an overthrow
of the government look very terrible; it made peaceable secession a
mockery, and a withdrawal from the Union equivalent to civil war. The
boldest hesitated to espouse any principle which was avowedly
revolutionary, and on both sides men wished to have a constitutional
defence for every doctrine which they promulgated. This was the feeling
which led Mr. Calhoun to elaborate and perfect with all the ingenuity of
his acute and logical mind the arguments in favor of nullification as a
constitutional principle. At the same time the theory of nullification,
however much elaborated, had not altered in its essence from the bald and
brief statement of the Kentucky resolutions. The vast change had come on
the other side of the question, in the popular idea of the Constitution. It
was no longer regarded as an experiment from which the contracting parties
had a right to withdraw, but as the charter of a national government. "It
is a critical moment," said Mr. Bell of New Hampshire to Mr. Webster, on
the morning of January 26, "and it is time, it is high time that the
people of this country should know what this Constitution _is_." "Then,"
answered Mr. Webster, "by the blessing of heaven they shall learn, this
day, before the sun goes down, what I understand it to be." With these
words on his lips he entered the senate chamber, and when he replied to
Hayne he stated what the Union and the government had come to be at that
moment. He defined the character of the Union as it existed in 1830, and
that definition so magnificently stated, and with such grand eloquence,
went home to the hearts of the people, and put into noble words the
sentiment which they felt but had not expressed. This was the significance
of the reply to Hayne. It mattered not what men thought of the Constitution
in 1789. The government which was then established might have degenerated
into a confederation little stronger than its predecessor. But the
Constitution did its work better, and converted a confederacy into a
nation. Mr. Webster set forth the national conception of the Union. He
expressed what many men were vaguely thinking and believing, and the
principles which he made clear and definite went on broadening and
deepening until, thirty years afterwards, they had a force sufficient to
sustain the North and enable her to triumph in the terrible struggle which
resulted in the preservation of national life. When Mr. Webster showed that
practical nullification was revolution, he had answered completely the
South Carolinian doctrine, for revolution is not susceptible of
constitutional argument. But in the state of public opinion at that time it
was necessary to discuss nullification on constitutional grounds also, and
Mr. Webster did this as eloquently and ably as the nature of the case
admitted. Whatever the historical defects of his position, he put weapons
into the hands of every friend of the Union, and gave reasons and arguments
to the doubting and timid. Yet after all is said, the meaning of Mr.
Webster's speech in our history and its significance to us are, that it set
forth with every attribute of eloquence the nature of the Union as it had
developed under the Constitution. He took the vague popular conception and
gave it life and form and character. He said, as he alone could say, the
people of the United States are a nation, they are the masters of an
empire, their union is indivisible, and the words which then rang out in
the senate chamber have come down through long years of political conflict
and of civil war, until at last they are part of the political creed of
every one of his fellow-countrymen.

The reply to Hayne cannot, however, be dismissed with a consideration of
its historical and political meaning or of its constitutional significance.
It has a personal and literary importance of hardly less moment. There
comes an occasion, a period perhaps, in the life of every man when he
touches his highest point, when he does his best, or even, under a sudden
inspiration and excitement, something better than his best, and to which he
can never again attain. At the moment it is often impossible to detect this
point, but when the man and his career have passed into history, and we can
survey it all spread out before us like a map, the pinnacle of success can
easily be discovered. The reply to Hayne was the zenith of Mr. Webster's
life, and it is the place of all others where it is fit to pause and study
him as a parliamentary orator and as a master of eloquence.

Before attempting, however, to analyze what he said, let us strive to
recall for a moment the scene of his great triumph. On the morning of the
memorable day, the senate chamber was packed by an eager and excited crowd.
Every seat on the floor and in the galleries was occupied, and all the
available standing-room was filled. The protracted debate, conducted with
so much ability on both sides, had excited the attention of the whole
country, and had given time for the arrival of hundreds of interested
spectators from all parts of the Union, and especially from New England.
The fierce attacks of the Southern leaders had angered and alarmed the
people of the North. They longed with an intense longing to have these
assaults met and repelled, and yet they could not believe that this
apparently desperate feat could be successfully accomplished. Men of the
North and of New England could be known in Washington, in those days, by
their indignant but dejected looks and downcast eyes. They gathered in the
senate chamber on the appointed day, quivering with anticipation, and with
hope and fear struggling for the mastery in their breasts. With them were
mingled those who were there from mere curiosity, and those who had come
rejoicing in the confident expectation that the Northern champion would
suffer failure and defeat.

In the midst of the hush of expectation, in that dead silence which is so
peculiarly oppressive because it is possible only when many human beings
are gathered together, Mr. Webster rose. He had sat impassive and immovable
during all the preceding days, while the storm of argument and invective
had beaten about his head. At last his time had come; and as he rose and
stood forth, drawing himself up to his full height, his personal grandeur
and his majestic calm thrilled all who looked upon him. With perfect
quietness, unaffected apparently by the atmosphere of intense feeling about
him, he said, in a low, even tone: "Mr. President: When the mariner has
been tossed for many days in thick weather and on an unknown sea, he
naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest
glance of the sun, to take his latitude and ascertain how far the elements
have driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence; and,
before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point
from which we departed, that we may, at least, be able to conjecture where
we now are. I ask for the reading of the resolution before the Senate."
This opening sentence was a piece of consummate art. The simple and
appropriate image, the low voice, the calm manner, relieved the strained
excitement of the audience, which might have ended by disconcerting the
speaker if it had been maintained. Every one was now at his ease; and when
the monotonous reading of the resolution ceased Mr. Webster was master of
the situation, and had his listeners in complete control. With breathless
attention they followed him as he proceeded. The strong masculine
sentences, the sarcasm, the pathos, the reasoning, the burning appeals to
love of State and country, flowed on unbroken. As his feelings warmed the
fire came into his eyes; there was a glow on his swarthy cheek; his strong
right arm seemed to sweep away resistlessly the whole phalanx of his
opponents, and the deep and melodious cadences of his voice sounded like
harmonious organ-tones as they filled the chamber with their music. As the
last words died away into silence, those who had listened looked
wonderingly at each other, dimly conscious that they had heard one of the
grand speeches which are land-marks in the history of eloquence; and the
men of the North and of New England went forth full of the pride of
victory, for their champion had triumphed, and no assurance was needed to
prove to the world that this time no answer could be made.

As every one knows, this speech contains much more than the argument
against nullification, which has just been discussed, and exhibits all its
author's intellectual gifts in the highest perfection. Mr. Hayne had
touched on every conceivable subject of political importance, including
slavery, which, however covered up, was really at the bottom of every
Southern movement, and was certain sooner or later to come to the surface.
All these various topics Mr. Webster took up, one after another, displaying
a most remarkable strength of grasp and ease of treatment. He dealt with
them all effectively and yet in just proportion. Throughout there are
bursts of eloquence skilfully mingled with statement and argument, so that
the listeners were never wearied by a strained and continuous rhetorical
display; and yet, while the attention was closely held by the even flow of
lucid reasoning, the emotions and passions were from time to time deeply
aroused and strongly excited. In many passages of direct retort Mr. Webster
used an irony which he employed always in a perfectly characteristic way.
He had a strong natural sense of humor, but he never made fun or descended
to trivial efforts to excite laughter against his opponent. He was not a
witty man or a maker of epigrams. But he was a master in the use of a cold,
dignified sarcasm, which at times, and in this instance particularly, he
used freely and mercilessly. Beneath the measured sentences there is a
lurking smile which saves them from being merely savage and cutting
attacks, and yet brings home a keen sense of the absurdity of the
opponent's position. The weapon resembled more the sword of Richard than
the scimetar of Saladin, but it was none the less a keen and trenchant
blade. There is probably no better instance of Mr. Webster's power of
sarcasm than the famous passage in which he replied to Hayne's taunt about
the "murdered coalition," which was said to have existed between Adams and
Calhoun. In a totally different vein is the passage about Massachusetts,
perhaps in its way as good an example as we have of Webster's power of
appealing to the higher and more tender feelings of human nature. The
thought is simple and even obvious, and the expression unadorned, and yet
what he said had that subtle quality which stirred and still stirs the
heart of every man born on the soil of the old Puritan Commonwealth.

The speech as a whole has all the qualities which made Mr. Webster a great
orator, and the same traits run through his other speeches. An analysis of
the reply to Hayne, therefore, gives us all the conditions necessary to
forming a correct idea of Mr. Webster's eloquence, of its characteristics
and its value. The Attic school of oratory subordinated form to thought to
avoid the misuse of ornament, and triumphed over the more florid practice
of the so-called "Asiatics." Rome gave the palm to Atticism, and modern
oratory has gone still farther in the same direction, until its predominant
quality has become that of making sustained appeals to the understanding.
Logical vigilance and long chains of reasoning, avoided by the ancients,
are the essentials of our modern oratory. Many able men have achieved
success under these conditions as forcible and convincing speakers. But the
grand eloquence of modern times is distinguished by the bursts of feeling,
of imagery or of invective, joined with convincing argument. This
combination is rare, and whenever we find a man who possesses it we may be
sure that, in greater or less degree, he is one of the great masters of
eloquence as we understand it. The names of those who in debate or to a
jury have been in every-day practice strong and effective speakers, and
also have thrilled and shaken large masses of men, readily occur to us. To
this class belong Chatham and Burke, Fox, Sheridan and Erskine, Mirabeau
and Vergniaud, Patrick Henry and Daniel Webster.

Mr. Webster was of course essentially modern in his oratory. He relied
chiefly on the sustained appeal to the understanding, and he was a
conspicuous example of the prophetic character which Christianity, and
Protestantism especially, has given to modern eloquence. At the same time
Mr. Webster was in some respects more classical, and resembled more closely
the models of antiquity, than any of those who have been mentioned as
belonging to the same high class. He was wont to pour forth the copious
stream of plain, intelligible observations, and indulge in the varied
appeals to feeling, memory, and interest, which Lord Brougham sets down as
characteristic of ancient oratory. It has been said that while Demosthenes
was a sculptor, Burke was a painter. Mr. Webster was distinctly more of the
former than the latter. He rarely amplified or developed an image or a
description, and in this he followed the Greek rather than the Englishman.
Dr. Francis Lieber wrote: "To test Webster's oratory, which has ever been
very attractive to me, I read a portion of my favorite speeches of
Demosthenes, and then read, always aloud, parts of Webster; then returned
to the Athenian; and Webster stood the test." Apart from the great
compliment which this conveys, such a comparison is very interesting as
showing the similarity between Mr. Webster and the Greek orator. Not only
does the test indicate the merit of Mr. Webster's speeches, but it also
proves that he resembled the Athenian, and that the likeness was more
striking than the inevitable difference born of race and time. Yet there
is no indication that Webster ever made a study of the ancient models or
tried to form himself upon them.

The cause of the classic self-restraint in Webster was partly due to the
artistic sense which made him so devoted to simplicity of diction, and
partly to the cast of his mind. He had a powerful historic imagination, but
not in the least the imagination of the poet, which

    "Bodies forth the forms of things unknown."

He could describe with great vividness, brevity, and force what had
happened in the past, what actually existed, or what the future promised.
But his fancy never ran away with him or carried him captive into the
regions of poetry. Imagination of this sort is readily curbed and
controlled, and, if less brilliant, is safer than that defined by
Shakespeare. For this reason, Mr. Webster rarely indulged in long,
descriptive passages, and, while he showed the highest power in treating
anything with a touch of humanity about it, he was sparing of images drawn
wholly from nature, and was not peculiarly successful in depicting in words
natural scenery or phenomena. The result is, that in his highest flights,
while he is often grand and affecting, full of life and power, he never
shows the creative imagination. But if he falls short on the poetic side,
there is the counterbalancing advantage that there is never a false note
nor an overwrought description which offends our taste and jars upon our

Mr. Webster showed his love of direct simplicity in his style even more
than in his thought or the general arrangement and composition of his
speeches. His sentences are, as a rule, short, and therefore pointed and
intelligible, but they never become monotonous and harsh, the fault to
which brevity is always liable. On the contrary, they are smooth and
flowing, and there is always a sufficient variety of form. The choice of
language is likewise simple. Mr. Webster was a remorseless critic of his
own style, and he had an almost extreme preference for Anglo-Saxon words
and a corresponding dislike of Latin derivatives. The only exception he
made was in his habit of using "commence" instead of its far superior
synonym "begin." His style was vigorous, clear, and direct in the highest
degree, and at the same time warm and full of vitality. He displayed that
rare union of strength with perfect simplicity, the qualities which made
Swift the great master of pure and forcible English.

Charles Fox is credited with saying that a good speech never reads well.
This opinion, taken in the sense in which it was intended, that a
carefully-prepared speech, which reads like an essay, lacks the freshness
and glow that should characterize the oratory of debate, is undoubtedly
correct. But it is equally true that when a speech which we know to have
been good in delivery is equally good in print, a higher intellectual plane
is reached and a higher level of excellence is attained than is possible to
either the mere essay or to the effective retort or argument, which loses
its flavor with the occasion which draws it forth. Mr. Webster's speeches
on the tariff, on the bank, and on like subjects, able as they are, are
necessarily dry, but his speeches on nobler themes are admirable reading.
This is, of course, due to the variety and ease of treatment, to their
power, and to the purity of the style. At the same time, the immediate
effect of what he said was immense, greater, even, than the intrinsic merit
of the speech itself. There has been much discussion as to the amount of
preparation which Mr. Webster made. His occasional orations were, of
course, carefully written out beforehand, a practice which was entirely
proper; but in his great parliamentary speeches, and often in legal
arguments as well, he made but slight preparation in the ordinary sense of
the term. The notes for the two speeches on Foote's resolution were jotted
down on a few sheets of note-paper. The delivery of the second one, his
masterpiece, was practically extemporaneous, and yet it fills seventy
octavo pages and occupied four hours. He is reported to have said that his
whole life had been a preparation for the reply to Hayne. Whether he said
it or not, the statement is perfectly true. The thoughts on the Union and
on the grandeur of American nationality had been garnered up for years, and
this in a greater or less degree was true of all his finest efforts. The
preparation on paper was trifling, but the mental preparation extending
over weeks or days, sometimes, perhaps, over years, was elaborate to the
last point. When the moment came, a night's work would put all the
stored-up thoughts in order, and on the next day they would pour forth with
all the power of a strong mind thoroughly saturated with its subject, and
yet with the vitality of unpremeditated expression, having the fresh glow
of morning upon it, and with no trace of the lamp.

More than all this, however, in the immediate effect of Mr. Webster's
speeches was the physical influence of the man himself. We can but half
understand his eloquence and its influence if we do not carefully study his
physical attributes, his temperament and disposition. In face, form, and
voice, nature did her utmost for Daniel Webster. No envious fairy was
present at his birth to mar these gifts by her malign influence. He seemed
to every one to be a giant; that, at least, is the word we most commonly
find applied to him, and there is no better proof of his enormous physical
impressiveness than this well-known fact, for Mr. Webster was not a man of
extraordinary stature. He was five feet ten inches in height, and, in
health, weighed a little less than two hundred pounds. These are the
proportions of a large man, but there is nothing remarkable about them. We
must look elsewhere than to mere size to discover why men spoke of Webster
as a giant. He had a swarthy complexion and straight black hair. His head
was very large, the brain weighing, as is well known, more than any on
record, except those of Cuvier and of the celebrated bricklayer. At the
same time his head was of noble shape, with a broad and lofty brow, and his
features were finely cut and full of massive strength. His eyes were
extraordinary. They were very dark and deep-set, and, when he began to
rouse himself to action, shone with the deep light of a forge-fire, getting
ever more glowing as excitement rose. His voice was in harmony with his
appearance. It was low and musical in conversation; in debate it was high
but full, ringing out in moments of excitement like a clarion, and then
sinking to deep notes with the solemn richness of organ-tones, while the
words were accompanied by a manner in which grace and dignity mingled in
complete accord. The impression which he produced upon the eye and ear it
is difficult to express. There is no man in all history who came into the
world so equipped physically for speech. In this direction nature could do
no more. The mere look of the man and the sound of his voice made all who
saw and heard him feel that he must be the embodiment of wisdom, dignity,
and strength, divinely eloquent, even if he sat in dreamy silence or
uttered nothing but heavy commonplaces.

It is commonly said that no one of the many pictures of Mr. Webster gives a
true idea of what he was. We can readily believe this when we read the
descriptions which have come down to us. That indefinable quality which we
call personal magnetism, the power of impressing by one's personality every
human being who comes near, was at its height in Mr. Webster. He never, for
instance, punished his children, but when they did wrong he would send for
them and look at them silently. The look, whether of anger or sorrow, was
punishment and rebuke enough. It was the same with other children. The
little daughter of Mr. Wirt once came into a room where Mr. Webster was
sitting with his back toward her, and touched him on the arm. He turned
suddenly, and the child started back with an affrighted cry at the sight of
that dark, stern, melancholy face. But the cloud passed as swiftly as the
shadows on a summer sea, and the next moment the look of affection and
humor brought the frightened child into Mr. Webster's arms, and they were
friends and playmates in an instant.

The power of a look and of changing expression, so magical with a child,
was hardly less so with men. There have been very few instances in history
where there is such constant reference to merely physical attributes as in
the case of Mr. Webster. His general appearance and his eyes are the first
and last things alluded to in every contemporary description. Every one is
familiar with the story of the English navvy who pointed at Mr. Webster in
the streets of Liverpool and said, "There goes a king." Sidney Smith
exclaimed when he saw him, "Good heavens, he is a small cathedral by
himself." Carlyle, no lover of America, wrote to Emerson:--

     "Not many days ago I saw at breakfast the notablest of all your
     notabilities, Daniel Webster. He is a magnificent specimen. You
     might say to all the world, 'This is our Yankee Englishman; such
     limbs we make in Yankee land!' As a logic fencer, or parliamentary
     Hercules, one would incline to back him at first sight against all
     the extant world. The tanned complexion; that amorphous crag-like
     face; the dull black eyes under the precipice of brows, like dull
     anthracite furnaces needing only to be _blown_; the mastiff mouth
     accurately closed; I have not traced so much of _silent Berserkir
     rage_ that I remember of in any man. 'I guess I should not like to
     be your nigger!' Webster is not loquacious, but he is pertinent,
     conclusive; a dignified, perfectly bred man, though not English in
     breeding; a man worthy of the best reception among us, and meeting
     such I understand."

Such was the effect produced by Mr. Webster when in England, and it was a
universal impression. Wherever he went men felt in the depths of their
being the amazing force of his personal presence. He could control an
audience by a look, and could extort applause from hostile listeners by a
mere glance. On one occasion, after the 7th of March speech, there is a
story that a noted abolitionist leader was present in the crowd gathered to
hear Mr. Webster, and this bitter opponent is reported to have said
afterwards, "When Webster, speaking of secession, asked 'what is to become
of me,' I was thrilled with a sense of some awful impending calamity." The
story may be apocryphal, but there can be no doubt of its essential truth
so far as the effect of Mr. Webster's personal presence goes. People looked
at him, and that was enough. Mr. Parton in his essay speaks of seeing
Webster at a public dinner, sitting at the head of the table with a bottle
of Madeira under his yellow waistcoat, and looking like Jove. When he
presided at the Cooper memorial meeting in New York he uttered only a few
stately platitudes, and yet every one went away with the firm conviction
that they had heard him speak words of the profoundest wisdom and grandest

The temptation to rely on his marvellous physical gifts grew on him as he
became older, which was to be expected with a man of his temperament. Even
in his early days, when he was not in action, he had an impassible and
slumberous look; and when he sat listening to the invective of Hayne, no
emotion could be traced on his cold, dark, melancholy face, or in the
cavernous eyes shining with a dull light. This all vanished when he began
to speak, and, as he poured forth his strong, weighty sentences, there was
no lack of expression or of movement. But Mr. Webster, despite his capacity
for work, and his protracted and often intense labor, was constitutionally
indolent, and this sluggishness of temperament increased very much as he
grew older. It extended from the periods of repose to those of action
until, in his later years, a direct stimulus was needed to make him exert
himself. Even to the last the mighty power was still there in undiminished
strength, but it was not willingly put forth. Sometimes the outside impulse
would not come; sometimes the most trivial incident would suffice, and like
a spark on the train of gunpowder would bring a sudden burst of eloquence,
electrifying all who listened. On one occasion he was arguing a case to the
jury. He was talking in his heaviest and most ponderous fashion, and with
half-closed eyes. The court and the jurymen were nearly asleep as Mr.
Webster argued on, stating the law quite wrongly to his nodding listeners.
The counsel on the other side interrupted him and called the attention of
the court to Mr. Webster's presentation of the law. The judge, thus
awakened, explained to the jury that the law was not as Mr. Webster stated
it. While this colloquy was in progress Mr. Webster roused up, pushed back
his thick hair, shook himself, and glanced about him with the look of a
caged lion. When the judge paused, he turned again to the jury, his eyes no
longer half shut but wide open and glowing with excitement. Raising his
voice, he said, in tones which made every one start: "If my client could
recover under the law as I stated it, how much more is he entitled to
recover under the law as laid down by the court;" and then, the jury now
being thoroughly awake, he poured forth a flood of eloquent argument and
won his case. In his latter days Mr. Webster made many careless and dull
speeches and carried them through by the power of his look and manner, but
the time never came when, if fairly aroused, he failed to sway the hearts
and understandings of men by a grand and splendid eloquence. The lion slept
very often, but it never became safe to rouse him from his slumber.

It was soon after the reply to Hayne that Mr. Webster made his great
argument for the government in the White murder case. One other address to
a jury in the Goodridge case, and the defence of Judge Prescott before the
Massachusetts Senate, which is of similar character, have been preserved to
us. The speech for Prescott is a strong, dignified appeal to the sober, and
yet sympathetic, judgment of his hearers, but wholly free from any attempt
to confuse or mislead, or to sway the decision by unwholesome pathos. Under
the circumstances, which were very adverse to his client, the argument was
a model of its kind, and contains some very fine passages full of the
solemn force so characteristic of its author. The Goodridge speech is
chiefly remarkable for the ease with which Mr. Webster unravelled a
complicated set of facts, demonstrated that the accuser was in reality the
guilty party, and carried irresistible conviction to the minds of the
jurors. It was connected with a remarkable exhibition of his power of
cross-examination, which was not only acute and penetrating, but extremely
terrifying to a recalcitrant witness. The argument in the White case, as a
specimen of eloquence, stands on far higher ground than either of the other
two, and, apart from the nature of the subject, ranks with the very best of
Mr. Webster's oratorical triumphs. The opening of the speech, comprising
the account of the murder and the analysis of the workings of a mind seared
with the remembrance of a horrid crime, must be placed among the very
finest masterpieces of modern oratory. The description of the feelings of
the murderer has a touch of the creative power, but, taken in conjunction
with the wonderful picture of the deed itself, the whole exhibits the
highest imaginative excellence, and displays the possession of an
extraordinary dramatic force such as Mr. Webster rarely exerted. It has the
same power of exciting a kind of horror and of making us shudder with a
creeping, nameless terror as the scene after the murder of Duncan, when
Macbeth rushes out from the chamber of death, crying, "I have done the
deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?" I have studied this famous exordium
with extreme care, and I have sought diligently in the works of all the
great modern orators, and of some of the ancient as well, for similar
passages of higher merit. My quest has been in vain. Mr. Webster's
description of the White murder, and of the ghastly haunting sense of guilt
which pursued the assassin, has never been surpassed in dramatic force by
any speaker, whether in debate or before a jury. Perhaps the most
celebrated descriptive passage in the literature of modern eloquence is the
picture drawn by Burke of the descent of Hyder Ali upon the plains of the
Carnatic, but even that certainly falls short of the opening of Webster's
speech in simple force as well as in dramatic power. Burke depicted with
all the ardor of his nature and with a wealth of color a great invasion
which swept thousands to destruction. Webster's theme was a cold-blooded
murder in a quiet New England town. Comparison between such topics, when
one is so infinitely larger than the other, seems at first sight almost
impossible. But Mr. Webster also dealt with the workings of the human heart
under the influence of the most terrible passions, and those have furnished
sufficient material for the genius of Shakespeare. The test of excellence
is in the treatment, and in this instance Mr. Webster has never been
excelled. The effect of that exordium, delivered as he alone could have
delivered it, must have been appalling. He was accused of having been
brought into the case to hurry the jury beyond the law and evidence, and
his whole speech was certainly calculated to drive any body of men,
terror-stricken by his eloquence, wherever he wished them to go. Mr.
Webster did not have that versatility and variety of eloquence which we
associate with the speakers who have produced the most startling effect
upon that complex thing called a jury. He never showed that rapid
alternation of wit, humor, pathos, invective, sublimity, and ingenuity
which have been characteristic of the greatest advocates. Before a jury as
everywhere else he was direct and simple. He awed and terrified jurymen; he
convinced their reason; but he commanded rather than persuaded, and carried
them with him by sheer force of eloquence and argument, and by his
overpowering personality.

The extravagant admiration which Mr. Webster excited among his followers
has undoubtedly exaggerated his greatness in many respects; but, high as
the praise bestowed upon him as an orator has been, in that direction at
least he has certainly not been overestimated. The reverse rather is true.
Mr. Webster was, of course, the greatest orator this country has ever
produced. Patrick Henry's fame rests wholly on tradition. The same is true
of Hamilton, who, moreover, never had an opportunity adequate to his
talents, which were unquestionably of the first order. Fisher Ames's
reputation was due to a single speech which is distinctly inferior to many
of Webster's. Clay's oratory has not stood the test of time; his speeches,
which were so wonderfully effective when he uttered them, seem dead and
cold and rather thin as we read them to-day. Calhoun was a great debater,
but was too dry and hard for the highest eloquence. John Quincy Adams,
despite his physical limitations, carried the eloquence of combat and
bitter retort to the highest point in the splendid battles of his
congressional career, but his learning, readiness, power of expression,
argument, and scathing sarcasm were not rounded into a perfect whole by the
more graceful attributes which also form an essential part of oratory.

Mr. Webster need not fear comparison with any of his countrymen, and he has
no reason to shun it with the greatest masters of speech in England. He had
much of the grandeur of Chatham, with whom it is impossible to compare him
or indeed any one else, for the Great Commoner lives only in fragments of
doubtful accuracy. Sheridan was universally considered to have made the
most splendid speech of his day. Yet the speech on the Begums as given by
Moore does not cast Webster's best work at all into the shade. Webster did
not have Sheridan's brilliant wit, but on the other hand he was never
forced, never involved, never guilty of ornament, which fastidious judges
would now pronounce tawdry. Webster's best speeches read much better than
anything of Sheridan, and, so far as we can tell from careful descriptions,
his manner, look, and delivery were far more imposing. The "manly
eloquence" of Fox seems to have resembled Webster's more closely than that
of any other of his English rivals. Fox was more fertile, more brilliant,
more surprising than Webster, and had more quickness and dash, and a
greater ease and charm of manner. But he was often careless, and sometimes
fell into repetitions, from which, of course, no great speaker can be
wholly free any more than he can keep entirely clear of commonplaces.
Webster gained upon him by superior finish and by greater weight of
argument. Before a jury Webster fell behind Erskine as he did behind
Choate, although neither of them ever produced anything at all comparable
to the speech on the White murder; but in the Senate, and in the general
field of oratory, he rises high above them both. The man with whom Webster
is oftenest compared, and the last to be mentioned, is of course Burke. It
may be conceded at once that in creative imagination, and in richness of
imagery and language, Burke ranks above Webster. But no one would ever have
said of Webster as Goldsmith did of Burke:--

    "Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
    And thought of convincing while they thought of dining."

Webster never sinned by over refinement or over ingenuity, for both were
utterly foreign to his nature. Still less did he impair his power in the
Senate as Burke did in the Commons by talking too often and too much. If he
did not have the extreme beauty and grace of which Burke was capable, he
was more forcible and struck harder and more weighty blows. He was greatly
aided in this by his brief and measured periods, and his strength was never
wasted in long and elaborate sentences. Webster, moreover, would never have
degenerated into the ranting excitement which led Burke to draw a knife
from his bosom and cast it on the floor of the House. This illustrates what
was, perhaps, Mr. Webster's very strongest point,--his absolute good taste.
He may have been ponderous at times in his later years. We know that he was
occasionally heavy, pompous, and even dull, but he never violated the rules
of the nicest taste. Other men have been more versatile, possessed of a
richer imagination, and more gorgeous style, with a more brilliant wit and
a keener sarcasm, but there is not one who is so absolutely free from
faults of taste as Webster, or who is so uniformly simple and pure in
thought and style, even to the point of severity.[1]

[Footnote 1: A volume might be written comparing Mr. Webster with other
great orators. Only the briefest and most rudimentary treatment of the
subject is possible here. A most excellent study of the comparative
excellence of Webster's eloquence has been made by Judge Chamberlain,
Librarian of the Boston Public Library, in a speech at the dinner of the
Dartmouth Alumni, which has since been printed as a pamphlet.]

It is easy to compare Mr. Webster with this and the other great orator,
and to select points of resemblance and of difference, and show where Mr.
Webster was superior and where he fell behind. But the final verdict must
be upon all his qualities taken together. He had the most extraordinary
physical gifts of face, form, and voice, and employed them to the best
advantage. Thus equipped, he delivered a long series of great speeches
which can be read to-day with the deepest interest, instruction, and
pleasure. He had dignity, grandeur, and force, a strong historic
imagination, and great dramatic power when he chose to exert it. He
possessed an unerring taste, a capacity for vigorous and telling sarcasm, a
glow and fire none the less intense because they were subdued, perfect
clearness of statement joined to the highest skill in argument, and he was
master of a style which was as forcible as it was simple and pure. Take him
for all in all, he was not only the greatest orator this country has ever
known, but in the history of eloquence his name will stand with those of
Demosthenes and Cicero, of Chatham and Burke.



In the year preceding the delivery of his great speech Mr. Webster had lost
his brother Ezekiel by sudden death, and he had married for his second wife
Miss Leroy of New York. The former event was a terrible grief to him, and
taken in conjunction with the latter seemed to make a complete break with
the past, and with its struggles and privations, its joys and successes.
The slender girl whom he had married in Salisbury church and the beloved
brother were both gone, and with them went those years of youth in which,--

       "He had sighed deep, laughed free,
    Starved, feasted, despaired, been happy."

One cannot come to this dividing line in Mr. Webster's life without regret.
There was enough of brilliant achievement and substantial success in what
had gone before to satisfy any man, and it had been honest, simple, and
unaffected. A wider fame and a greater name lay before him, but with them
came also ugly scandals, bitter personal attacks, an ambition which warped
his nature, and finally a terrible mistake. One feels inclined to say of
these later years, with the Roman lover:--

                "Shut them in
    With their triumphs and their glories and the rest,
                 Love is best."

The home changed first, and then the public career. The reply which, as
John Quincy Adams said, "utterly demolished the fabric of Hayne's speech
and left scarcely a wreck to be seen," went straight home to the people of
the North. It gave eloquent expression to the strong but undefined feeling
in the popular mind. It found its way into every house and was read
everywhere; it took its place in the school books, to be repeated by shrill
boy voices, and became part of the literature and of the intellectual life
of the country. In those solemn sentences men read the description of what
the United States had come to be under the Constitution, and what American
nationality meant in 1830. The leaders of the young war party in 1812 were
the first to arouse the national sentiment, but no one struck the chord
with such a master hand as Mr. Webster, or drew forth such long and deep
vibrations. There is no single utterance in our history which has done so
much by mere force of words to strengthen the love of nationality and
implant it deeply in the popular heart, as the reply to Hayne.

Before the delivery of that speech Mr. Webster was a distinguished
statesman, but the day after he awoke to a national fame which made all his
other triumphs pale. Such fame brought with it, of course, as it always
does in this country, talk of the presidency. The reply to Hayne made Mr.
Webster a presidential candidate, and from that moment he was never free
from the gnawing, haunting ambition to win the grand prize of American
public life. There was a new force in his career, and in all the years to
come the influence of that force must be reckoned and remembered.

Mr. Webster was anxious that the party of opposition to General Jackson,
which then passed by the name of National Republicans, should be in some
way strengthened, solidified, and placed on a broad platform of distinct
principles. He saw with great regret the ruin which was threatened by the
anti-masonic schism, and it would seem that he was not indisposed to take
advantage of this to stop the nomination of Mr. Clay, who was peculiarly
objectionable to the opponents of masonry. He earnestly desired the
nomination himself, but even his own friends in the party told him that
this was out of the question, and he acquiesced in their decision. Mr.
Clay's personal popularity, moreover, among the National Republicans was,
in truth, invincible, and he was unanimously nominated by the convention at
Baltimore. The action of the anti-masonic element in the country doomed
Clay to defeat, which he was likely enough to encounter in any event; but
the consolidation of the party so ardently desired by Mr. Webster was
brought about by acts of the administration, which completely overcame any
intestine divisions among its opponents.

The session of 1831-1832, when the country was preparing for the coming
presidential election, marks the beginning of the fierce struggle with
Andrew Jackson which was to give birth to a new and powerful organization
known in our history as the Whig party, and destined, after years of
conflict, to bring overwhelming defeat to the "Jacksonian democracy." There
is no occasion here to enter into a history of the famous bank controversy.
Established in 1816, the bank of the United States, after a period of
difficulties, had become a powerful and valuable financial organization. In
1832 it applied for a continuance of its charter, which then had three
years still to run. Mr. Webster did not enter into the personal contest
which had already begun, but in a speech of great ability advocated a
renewal of the charter, showing, as he always did on such themes, a
knowledge and a grasp of the principles and intricacies of public finance
unequalled in our history except by Hamilton. In a second speech he made a
most effective and powerful argument against a proposition to give the
States authority to tax the bank, defending the doctrines laid down by
Chief Justice Marshall in McCullough vs. Maryland, and denying the power of
Congress to give the States the right of such taxation, because by so doing
they violated the Constitution. The amendment was defeated, and the bill
for the continuance of the charter passed both Houses by large majorities.

Jackson returned the bill with a veto. He had the audacity to rest his veto
upon the ground that the bill was unconstitutional, and that it was the
duty of the President to decide upon the constitutionality of every measure
without feeling in the least bound by the opinion of Congress or of the
Supreme Court. His ignorance was so crass that he failed to perceive the
distinction between a new bill and one to continue an existing law, while
his vanity and his self-assumption were so colossal that he did not
hesitate to assert that he had the right and the power to declare an
existing law, passed by Congress, approved by Madison, and held to be
constitutional by an express decision of the Supreme Court, to be invalid,
because he thought fit to say so. To overthrow such doctrines was not
difficult, but Mr. Webster refuted them with a completeness and force which
were irresistible. At the same time he avoided personal attack in the
dignified way which was characteristic of him, despite the extraordinary
temptation to indulge in invective and telling sarcasm to which Jackson by
his ignorance and presumption had so exposed himself. The bill was lost,
the great conflict with the bank was begun, and the Whig party was founded.

Another event of a different character, which had occurred not long before,
helped to widen the breach and to embitter the contest between the parties
of the administration and of the opposition. When in 1829 Mr. McLane had
received his instructions as Minister to England, he had been directed by
Mr. Van Buren to reopen negotiations on the subject of the West Indian
trade, and in so doing the Secretary of State had reflected on the previous
administration, and had said that the party in power would not support the
pretensions of its predecessors. Such language was, of course, at variance
with all traditions, was wholly improper, and was mean and contemptible in
dealing with a foreign nation. In 1831 Mr. Van Buren was nominated as
Minister to England, and came up for confirmation in the Senate some time
after he had actually departed on his mission. Mr. Webster opposed the
confirmation in an eloquent speech full of just pride in his country and of
vigorous indignation against the slight which Mr. Van Buren had put upon
her by his instructions to Mr. McLane. He pronounced a splendid "rebuke
upon the first instance in which an American minister had been sent abroad
as the representative of his party and not as the representative of his
country." The opposition was successful, and Mr. Van Buren's nomination
was rejected. It is no doubt true that the rejection was a political
mistake, and that, as was commonly said at the time, it created sympathy
for Mr. Van Buren and insured his succession to the presidency. Yet no one
would now think as well of Mr. Webster if, to avoid awakening popular
sympathy and party enthusiasm in behalf of Mr. Van Buren, he had silently
voted for that gentleman's confirmation. To do so was to approve the
despicable tone adopted in the instructions to McLane. As a patriotic
American, above all as a man of intense national feelings, Mr. Webster
could not have done otherwise than resist with all the force of his
eloquence the confirmation of a man who had made such an undignified and
unworthy exhibition of partisanship. Politically he may have been wrong,
but morally he was wholly right, and his rebuke stands in our history as a
reproach which Mr. Van Buren's subsequent success can neither mitigate nor

There was another measure, however, which had a far different effect from
those which tended to build up the opposition to Jackson and his followers.
A movement was begun by Mr. Clay looking to a revision and reduction of the
tariff, which finally resulted in a bill reducing duties on many articles
to a revenue standard, and leaving those on cotton and woollen goods and
iron unchanged. In the debates which occurred during the passage of this
bill Mr. Webster took but little part, but they caused a furious outbreak
on the part of the South Carolinians led by Hayne, and ended in the
confirmation of the protective policy. When Mr. Webster spoke at the New
York dinner in 1831, he gave his hearers to understand very clearly that
the nullification agitation was not at an end, and after the passage of the
new tariff bill he saw close at hand the danger which he had predicted.

In November, 1832, South Carolina in convention passed her famous ordinance
nullifying the revenue laws of the United States, and her Legislature,
which assembled soon after, enacted laws to carry out the ordinance, and
gave an open defiance to the Federal government. The country was filled
with excitement. It was known that Mr. Calhoun, having published a letter
in defence of nullification, had resigned the vice-presidency, accepted the
senatorship of South Carolina, and was coming to the capital to advocate
his favorite doctrine. But the South Carolinians had made one trifling
blunder. They had overlooked the President. Jackson was a Southerner and a
Democrat, but he was also the head of the nation, and determined to
maintain its integrity. On December 10, before Congress assembled, he
issued his famous proclamation in which he took up rigorously the position
adopted by Mr. Webster in his reply to Hayne, and gave the South
Carolinians to understand that he would not endure treason, but would
enforce constitutional laws even though he should be compelled to use
bayonets to do it. The Legislature of the recalcitrant State replied in an
offensive manner which only served to make Jackson angry. He, too, began to
say some pretty violent things, and, as he generally meant what he said,
the gallant leaders of nullification and other worthy people grew very
uneasy. There can be no doubt that the outlook was very threatening, and
the nullifiers were extremely likely to be the first to suffer from the
effects of the impending storm.

Mr. Webster was in New Jersey, on his way to Washington, when he first
received the proclamation, and at Philadelphia he met Mr. Clay, and from a
friend of that gentleman received a copy of a bill which was to do away
with the tariff by gradual reductions, prevent the imposition of any
further duties, and which at the same time declared against protection and
in favor of a tariff for revenue only. This headlong plunge into concession
and compromise was not at all to Mr. Webster's taste. He was opposed to the
scheme for economical reasons, but still more on the far higher ground that
there was open resistance to laws of undoubted constitutionality, and until
that resistance was crushed under foot any talk of compromise was a blow at
the national dignity and the national existence which ought not to be
tolerated for an instant. His own course was plain. He proposed to sustain
the administration, and when the national honor should be vindicated and
all unconstitutional resistance ended, then would come the time for
concessions. Jackson was not slow in giving Mr. Webster something to
support. At the opening of the session a message was sent to Congress
asking that provision might be made to enable the President to enforce the
laws by means of the land and naval forces if necessary. The message was
referred to a committee, who at once reported the celebrated "Force Bill,"
which embodied the principles of the message and had the entire approval of
the President. But Jackson's party broke, despite the attitude of their
chief, for many of them were from the South and could not bring themselves
to the point of accepting the "Force Bill." The moment was critical, and
the administration turned to Mr. Webster and took him into their councils.
On February 8 Mr. Webster rose, and, after explaining in a fashion which no
one was likely to forget, that this was wholly an administration measure,
he announced his intention, as an independent senator, of giving it his
hearty and inflexible support. The combination thus effected was
overwhelming. Mr. Calhoun was now thoroughly alarmed, and we can well
imagine that the threats of hanging, in which it was rumored that the
President had indulged, began to have a good deal of practical significance
to a gentleman who, as Secretary of War, had been familiar with the
circumstances attending the deaths of Arbuthnot and Ambrister. At all
events, Mr. Calhoun lost no time in having an interview with Mr. Clay, and
the result was, that the latter, on February 11, announced that he should,
on the following day, introduce a tariff bill, a measure of the same sort
having already been started in the House. The bill as introduced did not
involve such a complete surrender as that which Mr. Webster had seen in
Philadelphia, but it necessitated most extensive modifications and gave all
that South Carolina could reasonably demand. Mr. Clay advocated it in a
brilliant speech, resting his defence on the ground that this was the only
way to preserve the tariff, and that it was founded on the great
constitutional doctrine of compromise. Mr. Webster opposed the bill
briefly, and then introduced a series of resolutions combating the proposed
measure on economical principles and on those of justice, and especially
assailing the readiness to abandon the rightful powers of Congress and
yield them up to any form of resistance. Before, however, he could speak in
support of his resolutions, the "Force Bill" came up, and Mr. Calhoun made
his celebrated argument in support of nullification. This Mr. Webster was
obliged to answer, and he replied with the great speech known in his works
as "The Constitution not a compact between sovereign States." In a general
way the same criticism is applicable to this debate as to that with Hayne,
but there were some important differences. Mr. Calhoun's argument was
superior to that of his follower. It was dry and hard, but it was a
splendid specimen of close and ingenious reasoning, and, as was to be
expected, the originator and master surpassed the imitator and pupil. Mr.
Webster's speech, on the other hand, in respect to eloquence, was decidedly
inferior to the masterpiece of 1830. Mr. Curtis says, "Perhaps there is no
speech ever made by Mr. Webster that is so close in its reasoning, so
compact, and so powerful." To the first two qualities we can readily
assent, but that it was equally powerful may be doubted. So long as Mr.
Webster confined himself to defending the Constitution as it actually was
and as what it had come to mean in point of fact, he was invincible. Just
in proportion as he left this ground and attempted to argue on historical
premises that it was a fundamental law, he weakened his position, for the
historical facts were against him. In the reply to Hayne he touched but
slightly on the historical, legal, and theoretical aspects of the case, and
he was overwhelming. In the reply to Calhoun he devoted his strength
chiefly to these topics, and, meeting his keen antagonist on the latter's
own chosen ground, he put himself at a disadvantage. In the actual present
and in the steady course of development, the facts were wholly with Mr.
Webster. Whatever the people of the United States understood the
Constitution to mean in 1789, there can be no question that a majority in
1833 regarded it as a fundamental law, and not as a compact--an opinion
which has now become universal. But it was quite another thing to argue
that what the Constitution had come to mean was what it meant when it was
adopted. The identity of meaning at these two periods was the proposition
which Mr. Webster undertook to maintain, and he upheld it as well and as
plausibly as the nature of the case admitted. His reasoning was close and
vigorous; but he could not destroy the theory of the Constitution as held
by leaders and people in 1789, or reconcile the Virginia and Kentucky
resolutions or the Hartford Convention with the fundamental-law doctrines.
Nevertheless, it would be an error to suppose that because the facts of
history were against Mr. Webster in these particulars, this able,
ingenious, and elaborate argument was thrown away. It was a fitting
supplement and complement to the reply to Hayne. It reiterated the national
principles, and furnished those whom the statement and demonstration of an
existing fact could not satisfy, with an immense magazine of lucid
reasoning and plausible and effective arguments. The reply to Hayne gave
magnificent expression to the popular feeling, while that to Calhoun
supplied the arguments which, after years of discussion, converted that
feeling into a fixed opinion, and made it strong enough to carry the North
through four years of civil war. But in his final speech in this debate Mr.
Webster came back to his original ground, and said, in conclusion, "Shall
we have a general government? Shall we continue the union of States under a
_government_ instead of a league? This vital and all-important question the
people will decide." The vital question went to the great popular jury, and
they cast aside all historical premises and deductions, all legal
subtleties and refinements, and gave their verdict on the existing facts.
The world knows what that verdict was, and will never forget that it was
largely due to the splendid eloquence of Daniel Webster when he defended
the cause of nationality against the slave-holding separatists of South

While this great debate was in progress, and Mr. Webster and the faithful
adherents of Jackson were pushing the "Force Bill" to a vote, Mr. Clay was
making every effort to carry the compromise tariff. In spite of his
exertions, the Force Bill passed on February 20, but close behind came the
tariff, which Mr. Webster opposed, on its final passage, in a vigorous
speech. There is no need to enter into his economical objections, but he
made his strongest stand against the policy of sacrificing great interests
to soothe South Carolina. Mr. Clay replied, but did not then press a vote,
for, with that dexterous management which he had exhibited in 1820 and was
again to display in 1850, he had succeeded in getting his tariff bill
carried rapidly through the House, in order to obviate the objection that
all money bills must originate in the lower branch. The House bill passed
the Senate, Mr. Webster voting against it, and became law. There was no
further need of the Force Bill. Clay, Calhoun, even the daring Jackson
ultimately, were very glad to accept the easy escape offered by a
compromise. South Carolina had in reality prevailed, although Mr. Clay had
saved protection in a modified form. Her threats of nullification had
brought the United States government to terms, and the doctrines of Calhoun
went home to the people of the South with the glory of substantial victory
about them, to breed and foster separatism and secession, and prepare the
way for armed conflict with the nobler spirit of nationality which Mr.
Webster had roused in the North.

Speaking of Mr. Webster at this period, Mr. Benton says:--

     "He was the colossal figure on the political stage during that
     eventful time, and his labors, splendid in their day, survive for
     the benefit of distant posterity."... "It was a splendid era in his
     life, both for his intellect and his patriotism. No longer the
     advocate of classes or interests, he appeared as the great
     defender of the Union, of the Constitution, of the country, and of
     the administration to which he was opposed. Released from the bonds
     of party and the narrow confines of class and corporation advocacy,
     his colossal intellect expanded to its full proportions in the
     field of patriotism, luminous with the fires of genius, and
     commanding the homage not of party but of country. His magnificent
     harangues touched Jackson in his deepest-seated and ruling feeling,
     love of country, and brought forth the response which always came
     from him when the country was in peril and a defender presented
     himself. He threw out the right hand of fellowship, treated Mr.
     Webster with marked distinction, commended him with public praise,
     and placed him on the roll of patriots. And the public mind took
     the belief that they were to act together in future, and that a
     cabinet appointment or a high mission would be the reward of his
     patriotic service. It was a crisis in the life of Mr. Webster. He
     stood in public opposition to Mr. Clay and Mr. Calhoun. With Mr.
     Clay he had a public outbreak in the Senate. He was cordial with
     Jackson. The mass of his party stood by him on the proclamation. He
     was at a point from which a new departure might be taken: one at
     which he could not stand still; from which there must be either
     advance or recoil. It was a case in which _will_ more than
     _intellect_ was to rule. He was above Mr. Clay and Mr. Calhoun in
     intellect, below them in will: and he was soon seen cooperating
     with them (Mr. Clay in the lead) in the great measure condemning
     President Jackson."

This is of course the view of a Jacksonian leader, but it is none the less
full of keen analysis and comprehension of Mr. Webster, and in some
respects embodies very well the conditions of the situation. Mr. Benton
naturally did not see that an alliance with Jackson was utterly impossible
for Mr. Webster, whose proper course was therefore much less simple than it
appeared to the Senator from Missouri. There was in reality no common
ground possible between Webster and Jackson except defence of the national
integrity. Mr. Webster was a great orator, a splendid advocate, a trained
statesman and economist, a remarkable constitutional lawyer, and a man of
immense dignity, not headstrong in temper and without peculiar force of
will. Jackson, on the other hand, was a rude soldier, unlettered,
intractable, arbitrary, with a violent temper and a most despotic will. Two
men more utterly incompatible it would have been difficult to find, and
nothing could have been more wildly fantastic than to suppose an alliance
between them, or to imagine that Mr. Webster could ever have done anything
but oppose utterly those mad gyrations of personal government which the
President called his "policy."

Yet at the same time it is perfectly true that just after the passage of
the tariff bill Mr. Webster was at a great crisis in his life. He could not
act with Jackson. That way was shut to him by nature, if by nothing else.
But he could have maintained his position as the independent and unbending
defender of nationality and as the foe of compromise. He might then have
brought Mr. Clay to his side, and remained himself the undisputed head of
the Whig party. The coalition between Clay and Calhoun was a hollow,
ill-omened thing, certain to go violently to pieces, as, in fact, it did,
within a few years, and then Mr. Clay, if he had held out so long, would
have been helpless without Mr. Webster. But such a course required a very
strong will and great tenacity of purpose, and it was on this side that Mr.
Webster was weak, as Mr. Benton points out. Instead of waiting for Mr. Clay
to come to him, Mr. Webster went over to Clay and Calhoun, and formed for a
time the third in that ill-assorted partnership. There was no reason for
his doing so. In fact every good reason was against it. Mr. Clay had come
to Mr. Webster with his compromise, and had been met with the reply "that
it would be yielding great principles to faction; and that the time had
come to test the strength of the Constitution and the government." This was
a brave, manly answer, but Mr. Clay, nationalist as he was, had straightway
deserted his friend and ally, and gone over to the separatists for support.
Then a sharp contest had occurred between Mr. Webster and Mr. Clay in the
debate on the tariff; and when it was all over, the latter wrote with frank
vanity and a slight tinge of contempt: "Mr. Webster and I came in
conflict, and I have the satisfaction to tell you that he gained nothing.
My friends flatter me with my having completely triumphed. There is no
permanent breach between us. I think he begins already to repent his
course." Mr. Clay was intensely national, but his theory of preserving the
Union was by continual compromise, or, in other words, by constant yielding
to the aggressive South. Mr. Webster's plan was to maintain a firm
attitude, enforce absolute submission to all constitutional laws, and prove
that agitation against the Union could lead only to defeat. This policy
would not have resulted in rebellion, but, if it had, the hanging of
Calhoun and a few like him, and the military government of South Carolina,
by the hero of New Orleans, would have taught slave-holders such a lesson
that we should probably have been spared four years of civil war. Peaceful
submission, however, would have been the sure outcome of Mr. Webster's
policy. But a compromise appealed as it always does to the timid,
balance-of-power party. Mr. Clay prevailed, and the manufacturers of New
England, as well as elsewhere, finding that he had secured for them the
benefit of time and of the chapter of accidents, rapidly came over to his
support. The pressure was too much for Mr. Webster. Mr. Clay thought that
if Mr. Webster "had to go over the work of the last few weeks he would have
been for the compromise, which commands the approbation of a great
majority." Whether Mr. Webster repented his opposition to the compromise no
one can say, but the change of opinion in New England, the general assent
of the Whig party, and the dazzling temptations of presidential candidacy
prevailed with him. He fell in behind Mr. Clay, and remained there in a
party sense and as a party man for the rest of his life.

The terrible prize of the presidency was indeed again before his eyes. Mr.
Clay's overthrow at the previous election had removed him, for the time
being at least, from the list of candidates, and thus freed Mr. Webster
from his most dangerous rival. In the summer of 1833 Mr. Webster made a
tour through the Western States, and was received everywhere with
enthusiasm, and hailed as the great expounder and defender of the
Constitution. The following winter he stood forward as the preëminent
champion of the Bank against the President. Everything seemed to point to
him as the natural candidate of the opposition. The Legislature of
Massachusetts nominated him for the presidency, and he himself deeply
desired the office, for the fever now burned strongly within him. But the
movement came to nothing. The anti-masonic schism still distracted the
opposition. The Kentucky leaders were jealous of Mr. Webster, and thought
him "no such man" as their idol Henry Clay. They admitted his greatness and
his high traits of character, but they thought his ambition mixed with too
much self-love. Governor Letcher wrote to Mr. Crittenden in 1836 that Clay
was more elevated, disinterested and patriotic than Webster, and that the
verdict of the country had had a good effect on the latter. Despite the
interest and enthusiasm which Mr. Webster aroused in the West, he had no
real hold upon that section or upon the masses of the people and the
Western Whigs turned to Harrison. There was no hope in 1836 for Mr.
Webster, or, for that matter, for his party either. He received the
electoral vote of faithful Massachusetts, and that was all. As it was then,
so it had been at the previous election, and so it was to continue to be at
the end of every presidential term. There never was a moment when Mr.
Webster had any real prospect of attaining to the presidency. Unfortunately
he never could realize this. He would have been more than human, perhaps,
if he had done so. The tempting bait hung always before his eyes. The prize
seemed to be always just coming within his reach, and was really never near
it. But the longing had entered his soul. He could not rid himself of the
idea of this final culmination to his success; and it warped his feelings
and actions, injured his career, and embittered his last years.

This notice of the presidential election of 1836 has somewhat anticipated
the course of events. Soon after the tariff compromise had been effected,
Mr. Webster renewed his relations with Mr. Clay, and, consequently, with
Mr. Calhoun, and their redoutable antagonist in the President's chair soon
gave them enough to do. The most immediate obstacle to Mr. Webster's
alliance with General Jackson was the latter's attitude in regard to the
bank. Mr. Webster had become satisfied that the bank was, on the whole, a
useful and even necessary institution. No one was better fitted than he to
decide on such a question, and few persons would now be found to differ
from his judgment on this point. In a general way he may be said to have
adopted the Hamiltonian doctrine in regard to the expediency and
constitutionality of a national bank. There were intimations in the spring
of 1833 that the President, not content with preventing the re-charter of
the bank, was planning to strike it down, and practically deprive it of
even the three years of life which still remained to it by law. The scheme
was perfected during the summer, and, after changing his Secretary of the
Treasury until he got one who would obey, President Jackson dealt his great
blow. On September 26 Mr. Taney signed the order removing the deposits of
the government from the Bank of the United States. The result was an
immediate contraction of loans, commercial distress, and great confusion.

The President had thrown down the gage, and the leaders of the opposition
were not slow to take it up. Mr. Clay opened the battle by introducing two
resolutions,--one condemning the action of the President as
unconstitutional, the other attacking the policy of removal, and a long and
bitter debate ensued. A month later, Mr. Webster came forward with
resolutions from Boston against the course of the President. He presented
the resolutions in a powerful and effective speech, depicting the
deplorable condition of business, and the injury caused to the country by
the removal of the deposits. He rejected the idea of leaving the currency
to the control of the President, or of doing away entirely with paper, and
advocated the re-charter of the present bank, or the creation of a new one;
and, until the time for that should arrive, the return of the deposits,
with its consequent relief to business and a restoration of stability and
of confidence for the time being at least. He soon found that the
administration had determined that no law should be passed, and that the
doctrine that Congress had no power to establish a bank should be upheld.
He also discovered that the constitutional pundit in the White House, who
was so opposed to a single national bank, had created, by his own fiat, a
large number of small national banks in the guise of state banks, to which
the public deposits were committed, and the collection of the public
revenues intrusted. Such an arbitrary policy, at once so ignorant,
illogical, and dangerous, aroused Mr. Webster thoroughly, and he entered
immediately upon an active campaign against the President. Between the
presentation of the Boston resolutions and the close of the session he
spoke on the bank, and the subjects necessarily connected with it, no less
than sixty-four times. He dealt entirely with financial topics,--chiefly
those relating to the currency, and with the constitutional questions
raised by the extension of the executive authority. This long series of
speeches is one of the most remarkable exhibitions of intellectual power
ever made by Mr. Webster, or indeed by any public man in our history. In
discussing one subject in all its bearings, involving of necessity a
certain amount of repetition, he not only displayed an extraordinary grasp
of complicated financial problems and a wide knowledge of their scientific
meaning and history, but he showed an astonishing fertility in argument,
coupled with great variety and clearness of statement and cogency of
reasoning. With the exception of Hamilton, Mr. Webster is the only
statesman in our history who was capable of such a performance on such a
subject, when a thorough knowledge had to be united with all the resources
of debate and all the arts of the highest eloquence.

The most important speech of all was that delivered in answer to Jackson's
"Protest," sent in as a reply to Mr. Clay's resolutions which had been
sustained by Mr. Webster as chairman of the Committee on Finance. The
"Protest" asserted, in brief, that the Legislature could not order a
subordinate officer to perform certain duties free from the control of the
President; that the President had the right to put his own conception of
the law into execution; and, if the subordinate officer refused to obey,
then to remove such officer; and that the Senate had therefore no right to
censure his removal of the Secretary of the Treasury, in order to reach the
government deposits. To this doctrine Mr. Webster replied with great
elaboration and ability. The question was a very nice one. There could be
no doubt of the President's power of removal, and it was necessary to show
that this power did not extend to the point of depriving Congress of the
right to confer by law specified and independent powers upon an inferior
officer, or of regulating the tenure of office. To establish this
proposition, in such a way as to take it out of the thick and heated
atmosphere of personal controversy, and put it in a shape to carry
conviction to the popular understanding, was a delicate and difficult task,
requiring, in the highest degree, lucidity and ingenuity of argument. It is
not too high praise to say that Mr. Webster succeeded entirely. The real
contest was for the possession of that debatable ground which lies between
the defined limits of the executive and legislative departments. The
struggle consolidated and gave coherence to the Whig party as representing
the opposition to executive encroachments. At the time Jackson, by his
imperious will and marvellous personal popularity, prevailed and obtained
the acceptance of his doctrines. But the conflict has gone on, and the
balance of advantage now rests with the Legislature. This tendency is quite
as dangerous as that of which Jackson was the exponent, if not more so. The
executive department has been crippled; and the influence and power of
Congress, and especially of the Senate, have become far greater than they
should be, under the system of proportion and balance embodied in the
Constitution. Despite Jackson's victory there is, to-day, far more danger
of undue encroachments on the part of the Senate than on that of the

At the next session the principal subject of discussion was the trouble
with France. Irritated at the neglect of the French government to provide
funds for the payment of their debt to us, Jackson sent in a message
severely criticising them, and recommending the passage of a law
authorizing reprisals on French property. The President and his immediate
followers were eager for war, Calhoun and his faction regarded the whole
question as only matter for "an action of assumpsit," while Mr. Webster and
Mr. Clay desired to avoid hostilities, but wished the country to maintain a
firm and dignified attitude. Under the lead of Mr. Clay, the recommendation
of reprisals was rejected, and under that of Mr. Webster a clause smuggled
into the Fortification Bill to give the President three millions to spend
as he liked was struck out and the bill was subsequently lost. This affair,
which brought us to the verge of war with France, soon blew over, however,
and caused only a temporary ripple, although Mr. Webster's attack on the
Fortification Bill left a sting behind.

In this same session Mr. Webster made an exhaustive speech on the question
of executive patronage and the President's power of appointment and
removal. He now went much farther than in his answer to the "Protest,"
asserting not only the right of Congress to fix the tenure of office, but
also that the power of removal, like the power of appointment, was in the
President and Senate jointly. The speech contained much that was valuable,
but in its main doctrine was radically unsound. The construction of 1789,
which decided that the power of removal belonged to the President alone,
was clearly right, and Mr. Webster failed to overthrow it. His theory,
embodied in a bill which provided that the President should state to the
Senate, when he appointed to a vacancy caused by removal, his reasons for
such removal, was thoroughly mischievous. It was more dangerous than
Jackson's doctrine, for it tended to take the power of patronage still more
from a single and responsible person and vest it in a large and therefore
wholly irresponsible body which has always been too much inclined to
degenerate into an office-broking oligarchy, and thus degrade its high and
important functions. Mr. Webster argued his proposition with his usual
force and perspicuity, but the speech is strongly partisan and exhibits the
disposition of an advocate to fit the Constitution to his particular case,
instead of dealing with it on general and fundamental principles.

The session closed with a resolution offered by Mr. Benton to expunge the
resolutions of censure upon the President, which was overwhelmingly
defeated, and was then laid upon the table, on the motion of Mr. Webster.
He also took the first step to prevent the impending financial disaster
growing out of the President's course toward the bank, by carrying a bill
to stop the payment of treasury warrants by the deposit banks in current
banknotes, and to compel their payment in gold and silver. The rejection of
Benton's resolutions served to embitter the already intense conflict
between the President and his antagonists, and Mr. Webster's bill, while it
showed the wisdom of the opposition, was powerless to remedy the mischief
which was afoot.

In this same year (1835) the independence of Texas was achieved, and in the
session of 1835-36 the slavery agitation began its march, which was only to
terminate on the field of battle and in the midst of contending armies.
Mr. Webster's action at this time in regard to this great question, which
was destined to have such an effect upon his career, can be more fitly
narrated when we come to consider his whole course in regard to slavery in
connection with the "7th of March" speech. The other matters of this
session demand but a brief notice. The President animadverted in his
message upon the loss of the Fortification Bill, due to the defeat of the
three million clause. Mr. Webster defended himself most conclusively and
effectively, and before the session closed the difficulties with France
were practically settled. He also gave great attention to the ever-pressing
financial question, trying to mitigate the evils which the rapid
accumulation of the public funds was threatening to produce. He felt that
he was powerless, that nothing indeed could be done to avert the
approaching disaster; but he struggled to modify its effects and delay its

Complications increased rapidly during the summer. The famous "Specie
Circular," issued by the Secretary of the Treasury without authority of
law, weakened all banks which did not hold the government deposits, forced
them to contract their loans, and completed the derangement of domestic
exchange. This grave condition of affairs confronted Congress when it
assembled in December, 1836. A resolution was introduced to rescind the
Specie Circular, and Mr. Webster spoke at length in the debate, defining
the constitutional duties of the government toward the regulation of the
currency, and discussing in a masterly manner the intricate questions of
domestic exchanges and the excessive circulation of bank notes. On another
occasion he reiterated his belief that a national bank was the true remedy
for existing ills, but that only hard experience could convince the country
of its necessity.

At this session the resolution to expunge the vote of censure of 1833 was
again brought forward by Mr. Benton. The Senate had at last come under the
sway of the President, and it was clear that the resolution would pass.
This precious scheme belongs to the same category of absurdities as the
placing Oliver Cromwell's skull on Temple Bar, and throwing Robert Blake's
body on a dung-hill by Charles Stuart and his friends. It was not such a
mean and cowardly performance as that of the heroes of the Restoration, but
it was far more "childish-foolish." The miserable and ludicrous nature of
such a proceeding disgusted Mr. Webster beyond measure. Before the vote was
taken he made a brief speech that is a perfect model of dignified and
severe protest against a silly outrage upon the Constitution and upon the
rights of senators, which he was totally unable to prevent. The original
censure is part of history. No "black lines" can take it out. The expunging
resolution, which Mr. Curtis justly calls "fantastic and theatrical," is
also part of history, and carries with it the ineffaceable stigma affixed
by Mr. Webster's indignant protest.

Before the close of the session Mr. Webster made up his mind to resign his
seat in the Senate. He had private interests which demanded his attention,
and he wished to travel both in the United States and in Europe. He may
well have thought, also, that he could add nothing to his fame by remaining
longer in the Senate. But besides the natural craving for rest, it is quite
possible that he believed that a withdrawal from active and official
participation in politics was the best preparation for a successful
candidacy for the presidency in 1840. This certainly was in his mind in the
following year (1838), when the rumor was abroad that he was again
contemplating retirement from the Senate; and it is highly probable that
the same motive was at bottom the controlling one in 1837. But whatever the
cause of his wish to resign, the opposition of his friends everywhere, and
of the Legislature of Massachusetts, formally and strongly expressed, led
him to forego his purpose. He consented to hold his seat for the present,
at least, and in the summer of 1837 made an extended tour through the West,
where he was received as before with the greatest admiration and

The distracted condition of the still inchoate Whig party in 1836, and the
extraordinary popularity of Jackson, resulted in the complete victory of
Mr. Van Buren. But the General's chosen successor and political heir found
the great office to which he had been called, and which he so eagerly
desired, anything but a bed of roses. The ruin which Jackson's wild policy
had prepared was close at hand, and three months after the inauguration the
storm burst with full fury. The banks suspended specie payments and
universal bankruptcy reigned throughout the country. Our business interests
were in the violent throes of the worst financial panic which had ever been
known in the United States. The history of Mr. Van Buren's administration,
in its main features, is that of a vain struggle with a hopeless network of
difficulties, and with the misfortune and prostration which grew out of
this wide-spread disaster. It is not necessary here to enter into the
details of these events. Mr. Webster devoted himself in the Senate to
making every effort to mitigate the evils which he had prophesied, and to
prevent their aggravation by further injudicious legislation. His most
important speech was delivered at the special session against the first
sub-treasury bill and Mr. Calhoun's amendment. Mr. Calhoun, who had wept
over the defeat of the bank bill in 1815, was now convinced that all banks
were mistakes, and wished to prevent the acceptance of the notes of specie
paying banks for government dues. Mr. Webster's speech was the fullest and
most elaborate he ever made on the subject of the currency, and the
relations of the government to it. His theme was the duty and right of the
general government under the Constitution to regulate and control the
currency, and his masterly argument was the best that has ever been made,
leaving in fact nothing to be desired.

In the spring of 1839 there was talk of sending Mr. Webster to London as
commissioner to settle the boundary disputes, but it came to nothing, and
in the following summer he went to England in his private capacity
accompanied by his family. The visit was in every way successful. It
brought rest and change as well as pleasure, and was full of interest. Mr.
Webster was very well received, much attention was paid him, and much
admiration shown for him. He commanded all this, not only by his
appearance, his reputation, and his intellectual force, but still more by
the fact that he was thoroughly and genuinely American in thought, feeling,
and manner.

He reached New York on his return at the end of December, and was there met
by the news of General Harrison's nomination by the Whigs. In the previous
year it had seemed as if, with Clay out of the way by the defeat of 1832,
and Harrison by that of 1836, the great prize must fall to Mr. Webster. His
name was brought forward by the Whigs of Massachusetts, but it met with no
response even in New England. It was the old story; Mr. Clay and his
friends were cool, and the masses of the party did not desire Mr. Webster.
The convention turned from the Massachusetts statesman and again nominated
the old Western soldier.

Mr. Webster did not hesitate as to the course he should pursue upon his
return. He had been reëlected to the Senate in January, 1839, and after the
session closed in July, 1840, he threw himself into the campaign in support
of Harrison. The people did not desire Mr. Webster to be their President,
but there was no one whom they so much wished to hear. He was besieged from
all parts of the country with invitations to speak, and he answered
generously to the call thus made upon him.

On his way home from Washington, in March, 1837, more than three years
before, he had made a speech at Niblo's Garden in New York,--the greatest
purely political speech which he ever delivered. He then reviewed and
arraigned with the greatest severity the history of Jackson's
administration, abstaining in his characteristic way from all personal
attack, but showing, as no one else could show, what had been done, and the
results of the policy, which were developing as he had predicted. He also
said that the worst was yet to come. The speech produced a profound
impression. People were still reading it when the worst really came, and
the great panic broke over the country. Mr. Webster had, in fact, struck
the key-note of the coming campaign in the Niblo-Garden speech of 1837. In
the summer of 1840 he spoke in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and
Virginia, and was almost continually upon the platform. The great feat of
1833-34, when he made sixty-four speeches in the Senate on the bank
question, was now repeated under much more difficult conditions. In the
first instance he was addressing a small and select body of trained
listeners, all more or less familiar with the subject. In 1840 he was
obliged to present these same topics, with all their infinite detail and
inherent dryness, to vast popular audiences, but nevertheless he achieved a
marvellous success. The chief points which he brought out were the
condition of the currency, the need of government regulation, the
responsibility of the Democrats, the miserable condition of the country,
and the exact fulfillment of the prophecies he had made. The argument and
the conclusion were alike irresistible, but Mr. Webster showed, in handling
his subject, not only the variety, richness, and force which he had
displayed in the Senate, but the capacity of presenting it in a way
thoroughly adapted to the popular mind, and yet, at the same time, of
preserving the impressive tone of a dignified statesman, without any
degeneration into mere stump oratory. This wonderful series of speeches
produced the greatest possible effect. They were heard by thousands and
read by tens of thousands. They fell, of course, upon willing ears. The
people, smarting under bankruptcy, poverty, and business depression, were
wild for a change; but nothing did so much to swell the volume of public
resentment against the policy of the ruling party as these speeches of Mr.
Webster, which gave character and form to the whole movement. Jackson had
sown the wind, and his unlucky successor was engaged in the agreeable task
of reaping the proverbial crop. There was a political revolution. The Whigs
swept the country by an immense majority, the great Democratic party was
crushed to the earth, and the ignorant misgovernment of Andrew Jackson
found at last its fit reward. General Harrison, as soon as he was elected,
turned to the two great chiefs of his party to invite them to become the
pillars of his administration. Mr. Clay declined any cabinet office, but
Mr. Webster, after some hesitation, accepted the secretaryship of state. He
resigned his seat in the Senate February 22, 1841, and on March 4 following
took his place in the cabinet, and entered upon a new field of public



There is one feature in the history, or rather in the historic scenery of
this period, which we are apt to overlook. The political questions, the
debates, the eloquence of that day, give us no idea of the city in which
the history was made, or of the life led by the men who figured in that
history. Their speeches might have been delivered in any great centre of
civilization, and in the midst of a brilliant and luxurious society. But
the Washington of 1841, when Mr. Webster took the post which is officially
the first in the society of the capital and of the country, was a very odd
sort of place, and widely different from what it is to-day. It was not a
village, neither was it a city. It had not grown, but had been created for
a special purpose. A site had been arbitrarily selected, and a city laid
out on the most magnificent scale. But there was no independent life, for
the city was wholly official in its purposes and its existence. There were
a few great public buildings, a few large private houses, a few hotels and
boarding houses, and a large number of negro shanties. The general effect
was of attempted splendor, which had resulted in slovenliness and
straggling confusion. The streets were unpaved, dusty in summer, and deep
with mud in winter, so that the mere difficulty of getting from place to
place was a serious obstacle to general society. Cattle fed in the streets,
and were milked by their owners on the sidewalk. There was a grotesque
contrast between the stately capitol where momentous questions were
eloquently discussed and such queerly primitive and rude surroundings. Few
persons were able to entertain because few persons had suitable houses.
Members of Congress usually clubbed together and took possession of a
house, and these "messes," as they were called,--although without doubt
very agreeable to their members,--did not offer a mode of life which was
easily compatible with the demands of general society. Social enjoyments,
therefore, were pursued under difficulties; and the city, although
improving, was dreary enough.

Society, too, was in a bad condition. The old forms and ceremonies of the
men of 1789 and the manners and breeding of our earliest generation of
statesmen had passed away, and the new democracy had not as yet a system of
its own. It was a period of transition. The old customs had gone, the new
ones had not crystallized. The civilization was crude and raw, and in
Washington had no background whatever,--such as was to be found in the old
cities and towns of the original thirteen States. The tone of the men in
public life had deteriorated and was growing worse, approaching rapidly its
lowest point, which it reached during the Polk administration. This was due
partly to the Jacksonian democracy, which had rejected training and
education as necessary to statesmanship, and had loudly proclaimed the
great truths of rotation in office, and the spoils to the victors, and
partly to the slavery agitation which was then beginning to make itself
felt. The rise of the irrepressible conflict between freedom and slavery
made the South overbearing and truculent; it produced that class of
politicians known as "Northern men with Southern principles," or, in the
slang of the day, as "doughfaces;" and it had not yet built up a strong,
vigorous, and aggressive party in the North. The lack of proper social
opportunities, and this deterioration among men in public life, led to an
increasing violence and roughness in debate, and to a good deal of coarse
dissipation in private. There was undoubtedly a brighter side, but it was
limited, and the surroundings of the distinguished men who led our
political parties in 1841 at the national capital, do not present a very
cheerful or attractive picture.

When the new President appeared upon the scene he was followed by a general
rush of hungry office-seekers, who had been starving for places for many
years. General Harrison was a brave, honest soldier and pioneer, simple in
heart and manners, unspoiled and untaught by politics of which he had had a
good share. He was not a great man, but he was honorable and well
intentioned. He wished to have about him the best and ablest men of his
party, and to trust to their guidance for a successful administration. But
although he had no desire to invent a policy, or to draft state papers, he
was determined to be the author of his own inaugural speech, and he came to
Washington with a carefully-prepared manuscript in his pocket. When Mr.
Webster read this document he found it full of gratitude to the people, and
abounding in allusions to Roman history. With his strong sense of humor,
and of the unities and proprieties as well, he was a good deal alarmed at
the proposed speech; and after much labor, and the expenditure of a good
deal of tact, he succeeded in effecting some important changes and
additions. When he came home in the evening, Mrs. Seaton, at whose house he
was staying, remarked that he looked worried and fatigued, and asked if
anything had happened. Mr. Webster replied, "You would think that something
had happened if you knew what I have done. I have killed seventeen Roman
proconsuls." It was a terrible slaughter for poor Harrison, for the
proconsuls were probably very dear to his heart. His youth had been passed
in the time when the pseudo classicism of the French Republic and Empire
was rampant, and now that, in his old age, he had been raised to the
presidency, his head was probably full of the republics of antiquity, and
of Cincinnatus called from the plough, to take the helm of state.

M. de Bacourt, the French minister at this period, a rather shallow and
illiberal man who disliked Mr. Webster, gives, in his recently published
correspondence, the following amusing account of the presentation of the
diplomatic corps to President Harrison,--a little bit of contemporary
gossip which carries us back to those days better than anything else could
possibly do. The diplomatic corps assembled at the house of Mr. Fox, the
British minister, who was to read a speech in behalf of the whole body, and
thence proceeded to the White House where

     "the new Secretary of State, Mr. Webster, who is much embarrassed
     by his new functions, came to make his arrangements with Mr. Fox.
     This done, we were ranged along the wall in order of seniority, and
     after too long a delay for a country where the chief magistrate has
     no right to keep people waiting, the old General came in, followed
     by all the members of his Cabinet, who walked in single file, and
     so kept behind him. He then advanced toward Mr. Fox, whom Mr.
     Webster presented to him. Mr. Fox read to him his address. Then the
     President took out his spectacles and read his reply. Then, after
     having shaken hands with the English minister, he walked from one
     end of our line to the other, Mr. Webster presenting each of us by
     name, and he shaking hands with each one without saying a word.
     This ceremony finished he returned to the room whence he had come,
     and reappeared with Mrs. Harrison--the widow of his eldest
     son--upon his arm, whom he presented to the diplomatic corps _en
     masse_. Mr. Webster, who followed, then presented to us Mrs.
     Finley, the mother of this Mrs. Harrison, in the following terms:
     'Gentlemen, I introduce to you Mrs. Finley, the lady who attends
     Mrs. Harrison;' and observe that this good lady who attends the
     others--takes care of them--is blind. Then all at once, a crowd of
     people rushed into the room. They were the wives, sisters,
     daughters, cousins, and lady friends of the President and of all
     his ministers, who were presented to us, and _vice versa_, in the
     midst of an inconceivable confusion."

Fond, however, as Mr. Webster was of society, and punctilious as he was in
matters of etiquette and propriety, M. de Bacourt to the contrary
notwithstanding, he had far more important duties to perform than those of
playing host and receiving foreign ministers. Our relations with England
when he entered the cabinet were such as to make war seem almost
inevitable. The northeastern boundary, undetermined by the treaty of 1783,
had been the subject of continual and fruitless negotiation ever since that
time, and was still unsettled and more complicated than ever. It was agreed
that there should be a new survey and a new arbitration, but no agreement
could be reached as to who should arbitrate or what questions should be
submitted to the arbitrators, and the temporary arrangements for the
possession of the territory in dispute were unsatisfactory and precarious.
Much more exciting and perilous than this old difficulty was a new one and
its consequences growing out of the Canadian rebellion in 1837. Certain of
the rebels fled to the United States, and there, in conjunction with
American citizens, prepared to make incursions into Canada. For this
purpose they fitted out an American steamboat, the Caroline. An expedition
from Canada crossed the Niagara River to the American shore, set fire to
the Caroline, and let her drift over the Falls. In the fray which occurred,
an American named Durfree was killed. The British government avowed this
invasion to be a public act and a necessary measure of self-defence; but it
was a question when Mr. Van Buren went out of office whether this avowal
had been made in an authentic manner. There was another incident, however,
also growing out of this affair, even more irritating and threatening than
the invasion itself. In November, 1840, one Alexander McLeod came from
Canada to New York, where he boasted that he was the slayer of Durfree, and
thereupon was at once arrested on a charge of murder and thrown into
prison. This aroused great anger in England, and the conviction of McLeod
was all that was needed to cause immediate war. In addition to these
complications was the question of the right of search for the impressment
of British seamen and for the suppression of the slave-trade. Our
government was, of course, greatly hampered in action by the rights of
Maine and Massachusetts on the northeastern boundary, and by the fact that
McLeod was within the jurisdiction and in the power of the New York courts,
and wholly out of reach of those of the United States. The character of the
national representatives on both sides in London tended, moreover, to
aggravate the growing irritation between the two countries. Lord Palmerston
was sharp and domineering, and Mr. Stevenson, our minister, was by no means
mild or conciliatory. Between them they did what they could to render
accommodation impossible.

To evolve a satisfactory and permanent peace from these conditions was the
task which confronted Mr. Webster, and he was hardly in office before he
received a demand from Mr. Fox for the release of McLeod, in which full
avowal was made that the burning of the Caroline was a public act. Mr.
Webster determined that the proper method of settling the boundary
question, when that subject should be reached, was to agree upon a
conventional and arbitrary line, and that in the mean time the only way to
dispose of McLeod was to get him out of prison, separate him,
diplomatically speaking, from the affair of the Caroline, and then take
that up as a distinct matter for negotiation with the British government.
The difficulty in regard to McLeod was the most pressing, and so to that he
gave his immediate attention. His first step was to instruct the
Attorney-General to proceed to Lockport, where McLeod was imprisoned, and
communicate with the counsel for the defence, furnishing them with
authentic information that the destruction of the Caroline was a public
act, and that therefore McLeod could not be held responsible. He then
replied to the British minister that McLeod could, of course, be released
only by judicial process, but he also informed Mr. Fox of the steps which
had been taken by the administration to assure the prisoner a complete
defence based on the avowal of the British government that the attack on
the Caroline was a public act. This threw the responsibility for McLeod,
and for consequent peace or war, where it belonged, on the New York
authorities, who seemed, however, but little inclined to assist the general
government. McLeod came before the Supreme Court of New York in July, on a
writ of _habeas corpus_, but they refused to release him on the grounds set
forth in Mr. Webster's instructions to the Attorney-General, and he was
remanded for trial in October, which was highly embarrassing to our
government, as it kept this dangerous affair open.

But this and all other embarrassments to the Secretary of State sank into
insignificance beside those caused him by the troubles in his own political
party. Between the time of the instructions to the Attorney-General and
that of the letter to Mr. Fox, President Harrison died, after only a month
of office. Mr. Tyler, of whose views but little was known, at once
succeeded, and made no change in the cabinet of his predecessor. On the
last day of May, Congress, called in extra session by President Harrison,
convened. A bill establishing a bank was passed, and Mr. Tyler vetoed it on
account of constitutional objections to some of its features. The
triumphant Whigs were filled with wrath at this unlooked-for check. Mr.
Clay reflected on the President with great severity in the Senate, the
members of the party in the House were very violent in their expressions of
disapproval, and another measure, known as the "Fiscal Corporation Act,"
was at once prepared. Mr. Webster regarded this state of affairs with great
anxiety and alarm. He said that such a contest, if persisted in, would ruin
the party and deprive them of the fruits of their victory, besides
imperilling the important foreign policy then just initiated. He strove to
allay the excitement, and resisted the passage of any new bank measure,
much as he wished the establishment of such an institution, advising
postponement and delay for the sake of procuring harmony if possible. But
the party in Congress would not be quieted. They were determined to force
Mr. Tyler's hand at all hazards, and while the new bill was pending, Mr.
Clay, stung by the taunts of Mr. Buchanan, made a savage attack upon the
President. As a natural consequence, the "Fiscal Corporation" scheme shared
the fate of its predecessor. The breach between the President and his party
was opened irreparably, and four members of the cabinet at once resigned.
Mr. Webster was averse to becoming a party to an obvious combination
between the Senate and the cabinet to harass the President, and he was
determined not to sacrifice the success of his foreign negotiations to a
political quarrel. He therefore resolved to remain in the cabinet for the
present, at least, and, after consulting the Massachusetts delegation in
Congress, who fully approved his course, he announced his decision to the
public in a letter to the "National Intelligencer." His action soon became
the subject of much adverse criticism from the Whigs, but at this day no
one would question that he was entirely right. It was not such an easy
thing to do, however, as it now appears, for the excitement was running
high among the Whigs, and there was great bitterness of feeling toward the
President. Mr. Webster behaved in an independent and patriotic manner,
showing a liberality of spirit, a breadth of view, and a courage of opinion
which entitle him to the greatest credit.

Events, which had seemed thus far to go steadily against him in his
negotiations, and which had been supplemented by the attacks of the
opposition in Congress for his alleged interference with the course of
justice in New York, now began to turn in his favor. The news of the
refusal of the New York court to release McLeod on a _habeas corpus_ had
hardly reached England when the Melbourne ministry was beaten in the House
of Commons, and Sir Robert Peel came in, bringing with him Lord Aberdeen as
the successor of Lord Palmerston in the department of foreign affairs. The
new ministry was disposed to be much more peaceful than their predecessors
had been, and the negotiations at once began to move more smoothly. Great
care was still necessary to prevent outbreaks on the border, but in October
McLeod proved an _alibi_ and was acquitted, and thus the most dangerous
element in our relations with England was removed. Matters were still
further improved by the retirement of Mr. Stevenson, whose successor in
London was Mr. Everett, eminently conciliatory in disposition and in full
sympathy with the Secretary of State.

Mr. Webster was now able to turn his undivided attention to the
long-standing boundary question. His proposition to agree upon a
conventional line had been made known by Mr. Fox to his government, and
soon afterwards Mr. Everett was informed that Lord Ashburton would be sent
to Washington on a special mission. The selection of an envoy well known
for his friendly feeling toward the United States, which was also
traditional with the great banking-house of his family, was in itself a
pledge of conciliation and good will. Lord Ashburton reached Washington in
April, 1842, and the negotiation at once began.

It is impossible and needless to give here a detailed account of that
negotiation. We can only glance briefly at the steps taken by Mr. Webster
and at the results achieved by him. There were many difficulties to be
overcome, and in the winter of 1841-42 the case of the Creole added a fresh
and dangerous complication. The Creole was a slave-ship, on which the
negroes had risen, and, taking possession, had carried her into an English
port in the West Indies, where assistance was refused to the crew, and
where the slaves were allowed to go free. This was an act of very doubtful
legality, it touched both England and the Southern States in a very
sensitive point, and it required all Mr. Webster's tact and judgment to
keep it out of the negotiation until the main issue had been settled.

The principal obstacle in the arrangement of the boundary dispute arose
from the interests and the attitude of Massachusetts and Maine. Mr. Webster
obtained with sufficient ease the appointment of commissioners from the
former State, and, through the agency of Mr. Sparks, who was sent to
Augusta for the purpose, commissioners were also appointed in Maine; but
these last were instructed to adhere to the line of 1783 as claimed by the
United States. Lord Ashburton and Mr. Webster readily agreed that a treaty
must come from mutual conciliation and compromise; but, after a good deal
of correspondence, it became apparent that the Maine commissioners and the
English envoy could not be brought to an agreement. A dead-lock and
consequent loss of the treaty were imminent. Mr. Webster then had a long
interview with Lord Ashburton. By a process of give and take they agreed on
a conventional line and on the concession of certain rights, which made a
fair bargain, but unluckily the loss was suffered by Maine and
Massachusetts, while the benefits received by the United States accrued to
New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This brought the negotiators to the
point at which they had already been forced to halt so many times before.
Mr. Webster now cut the knot by proposing that the United States should
indemnify Maine and Massachusetts in money for the loss they were to suffer
in territory, and by his dexterous management the commissioners of the two
States were persuaded to assent to this arrangement, while Lord Ashburton
was induced to admit the agreement into a clause of the treaty. This
disposed of the chief question in dispute, but two other subjects were
included in the treaty besides the boundary. The first related to the
right of search claimed by England for the suppression of the slave-trade.
This was met by what was called the "Cruising Convention," a clause which
stipulated that each nation should keep its own squadron on the coast of
Africa, to enforce separately its own laws against the slave-trade, but in
mutual coöperation. The other subject of agreement grew out of the Creole
case. England supposed that we sought the return of the negroes because
they were slaves, but Mr. Webster argued that they were demanded as
mutineers and murderers. The result was an article which, while it
carefully avoided even the appearance of an attempt to bind England to
return fugitive slaves, provided amply for the extradition of criminals.
The case of the Caroline was disposed of by a formal admission of the
inviolability of national territory and by an apology for the burning of
the steamboat. As to the action in regard to the slaves on the Creole, Mr.
Webster could only obtain the assurance that there should be "no officious
interference with American vessels driven by accident or violence into
British ports," and with this he was content to let the matter drop. On the
subject of impressment, the old _casus belli_ of 1812, Mr. Webster wrote a
forcible letter to Lord Ashburton. In it he said that, in future, "in every
regularly-documented American merchant vessel, the crew who navigate it
will find their protection in the flag which is over them." In other words,
if you take sailors out of our vessels, we shall fight; and this simple
statement of fact ended the whole matter and was quite as binding on
England as any treaty could have been.

Thus the negotiation closed. The only serious objection to its results was
that the interests of Maine were sacrificed perhaps unduly,--as a recent
discussion of that point seems to show. But such a sacrifice was fully
justified by what was achieved. A war was averted, a long standing and
menacing dispute was settled, and a treaty was concluded which was
creditable and honorable to all concerned. By his successful introduction
of the extradition clause, Mr. Webster rendered a great service to
civilization and to the suppression and punishment of crime. Mr. Webster
was greatly aided throughout--both in his arguments, and in the
construction of the treaty itself--by the learned and valuable assistance
freely given by Judge Story. But he conducted the whole negotiation with
great ability and in the spirit of a liberal and enlightened statesman. He
displayed the highest tact and dexterity in reconciling so many clashing
interests, and avoiding so many perilous side issues, until he had brought
the main problem to a solution. In all that he did and said he showed a
dignity and an entire sufficiency, which make this negotiation one of the
most creditable--so far as its conduct was concerned--in which the United
States was ever engaged.

While the negotiation was in progress there was a constant murmur among the
Whigs about Mr. Webster's remaining in the cabinet, and as soon as the
treaty was actually signed a loud clamor began--both among the politicians
and in the newspapers--for his resignation. In the midst of this outcry the
Senate met and ratified the treaty by a vote of thirty-nine to nine,--a
great triumph for its author. But the debate disclosed a vigorous
opposition, Benton and Buchanan both assailing Mr. Webster for neglecting
and sacrificing American, and particularly Southern, interests. At the same
time the controversy which Mr. Webster called "the battle of the maps," and
which was made a great deal of in England, began to show itself. A map of
1783, which Mr. Webster obtained, had been discovered in Paris, sustaining
the English view, while another was afterwards found in London, supporting
the American claim. Neither was of the least consequence, as the new line
was conventional and arbitrary; but the discoveries caused a great deal of
unreasonable excitement. Mr. Webster saw very plainly that the treaty was
not yet secure. It was exposed to attacks both at home and abroad, and had
still to pass Parliament. Until it was entirely safe, Mr. Webster
determined to remain at his post. The clamor continued about his
resignation, and rose round him at his home in Marshfield, whither he had
gone for rest. At the same time the Whig convention of Massachusetts
declared formally a complete separation from the President. In the language
of to-day, they "read Mr. Tyler out of the party." There was a variety of
motives for this action. One was to force Mr. Webster out of the cabinet,
another to advance the fortunes of Mr. Clay, in favor of whose presidential
candidacy movements had begun in Massachusetts, even among Mr. Webster's
personal friends, as well as elsewhere. Mr. Webster had just declined a
public dinner, but he now decided to meet his friends in Faneuil Hall. An
immense audience gathered to hear him, many of them strongly disapproving
his course, but after he had spoken a few moments, he had them completely
under control. He reviewed the negotiation; he discussed fully the
differences in the party; he deplored, and he did not hesitate strongly to
condemn these quarrels, because by them the fruits of victory were lost,
and Whig policy abandoned. With boldness and dignity he denied the right of
the convention to declare a separation from the President, and the implied
attempt to coerce himself and others. "I am, gentlemen, a little hard to
coax," he said, "but as to being driven, that is out of the question. If I
choose to remain in the President's councils, do these gentlemen mean to
say that I cease to be a Massachusetts Whig? I am quite ready to put that
question to the people of Massachusetts." He was well aware that he was
losing party strength by his action; he knew that behind all these
resolutions was the intention to raise his great rival to the presidency;
but he did not shrink from avowing his independence and his intention of
doing what he believed to be right, and what posterity admits to have been
so. Mr. Webster never appeared to better advantage, and he never made a
more manly speech than on this occasion, when, without any bravado, he
quietly set the influence and the threats of his party at defiance.

He was not mistaken in thinking that the treaty was not yet in smooth
water. It was again attacked in the Senate, and it had a still more severe
ordeal to go through in Parliament. The opposition, headed by Lord
Palmerston, assailed the treaty and Lord Ashburton himself, with the
greatest virulence, denouncing the one as a capitulation, and the other as
a grossly unfit appointment. Moreover, the language of the President's
message led England to believe that we claimed that the right of search had
been abandoned. After much correspondence, this misunderstanding drew forth
an able letter from Mr. Webster, stating that the right of search had not
been included in the treaty, but that the "cruising convention" had
rendered the question unimportant. Finally, all complications were
dispersed, and the treaty ratified; and then came an attack from an
unexpected quarter. General Cass--our minister at Paris--undertook to
protest against the treaty, denounce it, and leave his post on account of
it. This wholly gratuitous assault led to a public correspondence, in which
General Cass, on his own confession, was completely overthrown and broken
down by the Secretary of State. This was the last difficulty, and the work
was finally accepted and complete.

During this important and absorbing negotiation, other matters of less
moment, but still of considerable consequence, had been met by Mr. Webster,
and successfully disposed of. He made a treaty with Portugal, respecting
duties on wines; he carried on a long correspondence with our minister to
Mexico in relation to certain American prisoners; he vindicated the course
of the United States in regard to the independence of Texas, teaching M. de
Bocanegra, the Mexican Secretary of State, a lesson as to the duties of
neutrality, and administering a severe reproof to that gentleman for
imputing bad faith to the United States; he conducted the correspondence,
and directed the policy of the government in regard to the troubles in
Rhode Island; he made an effort to settle the Oregon boundary; and,
finally, he set on foot the Chinese mission, which, after being offered to
Mr. Everett, was accepted by Mr. Cushing with the best results. But his
real work came to an end with the correspondence with General Cass at the
close of 1842, and in May of the following year he resigned the
secretaryship. In the two years during which he had been at the head of the
cabinet, he had done much. His work added to his fame by the ability which
it exhibited in a new field, and has stood the test of time. In a period of
difficulty, and even danger, he proved himself singularly well adapted for
the conduct of foreign affairs,--a department which is most peculiarly and
traditionally the employment and test of a highly-trained statesman. It may
be fairly said that no one, with the exception of John Quincy Adams, has
ever shown higher qualities, or attained greater success in the
administration of the State Department, than Mr. Webster did while in Mr.
Tyler's cabinet.

On his resignation, he returned at once to private life, and passed the
next summer on his farm at Marshfield,--now grown into a large
estate,--which was a source of constant interest and delight, and where he
was able to have beneath his eyes his beloved sea. His private affairs were
in disorder, and required his immediate attention. He threw himself into
his profession, and his practice at once became active, lucrative, and
absorbing. To this period of retirement belong the second Bunker Hill
oration and the Girard argument, which made so much noise in its day. He
kept himself aloof from politics, but could not wholly withdraw from them.
The feeling against him, on account of his continuance in the cabinet, had
subsided, and there was a feeble and somewhat fitful movement to drop Clay,
and present Mr. Webster as a candidate for the presidency. Mr. Webster,
however, made a speech at Andover, defending his course and advocating Whig
principles, and declared that he was not a candidate for office. He also
refused to allow New Hampshire to mar party harmony by bringing his name
forward. When Mr. Clay was nominated, in May, 1844, Mr. Webster, who had
beheld with anxiety the rise of the Liberty party and prophesied the
annexation of Texas, decided, although he was dissatisfied with the silence
of the Whigs on this subject, to sustain their candidate. This was
undoubtedly the wisest course; and, having once enlisted, he gave Mr. Clay
a hearty and vigorous support, making a series of powerful speeches,
chiefly on the tariff, and second in variety and ability only to those
which he had delivered in the Harrison campaign. Mr. Clay was defeated
largely by the action of the Liberty party, and the silence of the Whigs
about Texas and slavery cost them the election. At the beginning of the
year Mr. Webster had declined a reëlection to the Senate, but it was
impossible for him to remain out of politics, and the pressure to return
soon became too strong to be resisted. When Mr. Choate resigned in the
winter of 1844-45, Mr. Webster was reëlected senator, from Massachusetts.
On the first of March the intrigue, to perfect which Mr. Calhoun had
accepted the State Department, culminated, and the resolutions for the
annexation of Texas passed both branches of Congress. Four days later Mr.
Polk's administration, pledged to the support and continuance of the
annexation policy, was in power, and Mr. Webster had taken his seat in the
Senate for his last term.



The principal events of Mr. Polk's administration belong to or grow out of
the slavery agitation, then beginning to assume most terrible proportions.
So far as Mr. Webster is concerned, they form part of the history of his
course on the slavery question, which culminated in the famous speech of
March 7, 1850. Before approaching that subject, however, it will be
necessary to touch very briefly on one or two points of importance in Mr.
Webster's career, which have no immediate bearing on the question of
slavery, and no relation to the final and decisive stand which Mr. Webster
took in regard to it.

The Ashburton treaty was open to one just criticism. It did not go far
enough. It did not settle the northwestern as it did the northeastern
boundary. Mr. Webster, as has been said, made an effort to deal with the
former as well as the latter, but he met with no encouragement, and as he
was then preparing to retire from office, the matter dropped. In regard to
the northwestern boundary Mr. Webster agreed with the opinion of Mr.
Monroe's cabinet, that the forty-ninth parallel was a fair and proper line;
but the British undertook to claim the line of the Columbia River, and this
excited corresponding claims on our side. The Democracy for political
purposes became especially warlike and patriotic. They declared in their
platform that we must have the whole of Oregon and reoccupy it at once. Mr.
Polk embodied this view in his message, together with the assertion that
our rights extended to the line of 54° 40' north, and a shout of
"fifty-four-forty or fight" went through the land from the enthusiastic
Democracy. If this attitude meant anything it meant war, inasmuch as our
proposal for the forty-ninth parallel, and the free navigation of the
Columbia River, made in the autumn of 1845, had been rejected by England,
and then withdrawn by us. Under these circumstances Mr. Webster felt it his
duty to come forward and exert all his influence to maintain peace, and to
promote a clear comprehension, both in the United States and in Europe, of
the points at issue. His speech on this subject and with this aim was
delivered in Faneuil Hall. He spoke of the necessity of peace, of the fair
adjustment offered by an acceptance of the forty-ninth parallel, and
derided the idea of casting two great nations into war for such a question
as this. He closed with a forcible and solemn denunciation of the president
or minister who should dare to take the responsibility for kindling the
flames of war on such a pretext. The speech was widely read. It was
translated into nearly all the languages of Europe, and on the continent
had a great effect. About a month later he wrote to Mr. MacGregor of
Glasgow, suggesting that the British government should offer to accept the
forty-ninth parallel, and his letter was shown to Lord Aberdeen, who at
once acted upon the advice it contained. While this letter, however, was on
its way, certain resolutions were introduced in the Senate relating to the
national defences, and to give notice of the termination of the convention
for the joint occupation of Oregon, which would of course have been nearly
equivalent to a declaration of war. Mr. Webster opposed the resolutions,
and insisted that, while the Executive, as he believed, had no real wish
for war, this talk was kept up about "all or none," which left nothing to
negotiate about. The notice finally passed, but before it could be
delivered by our minister in London, Lord Aberdeen's proposition of the
forty-ninth parallel, as suggested by Mr. Webster, had been received at
Washington, where it was accepted by the truculent administration, agreed
to by the Senate, and finally embodied in a treaty. Mr. Webster's
opposition had served its purpose in delaying action and saving bluster
from being converted into actual war,--a practical conclusion by no means
desired by the dominant party, who had talked so loud that they came very
near blundering into hostilities merely as a matter of self-justification.
The declarations of the Democratic convention and of the Democratic
President in regard to England were really only sound and fury, although
they went so far that the final retreat was noticeable and not very
graceful. The Democratic leaders had had no intention of fighting with
England when all they could hope to gain would be glory and hard knocks,
but they had a very definite idea of attacking without bluster and in good
earnest another nation where there was territory to be obtained for

The Oregon question led, however, to an attack upon Mr. Webster which
cannot be wholly passed over. He had, of course, his personal enemies in
both parties, and his effective opposition to war with England greatly
angered some of the most warlike of the Democrats, and especially Mr. C.J.
Ingersoll of Pennsylvania, a bitter Anglophobist. Mr. Ingersoll, in
February, made a savage attack upon the Ashburton negotiation, the treaty
of Washington, and upon Mr. Webster personally, alleging that as Secretary
of State he had been guilty of a variety of grave misdemeanors, including a
corrupt use of the public money. Some of these charges, those relating to
the payment of McLeod's counsel by our government, to instructions to the
Attorney-General to take charge of McLeod's defence, and to a threat by
Mr. Webster that if McLeod were not released New York would be laid in
ashes, were repeated in the Senate by Mr. Dickinson of New York. Mr.
Webster peremptorily called for all the papers relating to the negotiation
of 1842, and on the sixth and seventh of April (1846), he made the
elaborate speech in defence of the Ashburton treaty, which is included in
his collected works. It is one of the strongest and most virile speeches he
ever delivered. He was profoundly indignant, and he had the completest
mastery of his subject. In fact, he was so deeply angered by the charges
made against him, that he departed from his almost invariable practice, and
indulged in a severe personal denunciation of Ingersoll and Dickinson.
Although he did not employ personal invective in his oratory, it was a
weapon which he was capable of using with most terrible effect, and his
blows fell with crushing force upon Ingersoll, who writhed under the
strokes. Through some inferior officers of the State Department Ingersoll
got what he considered proofs, and then introduced resolutions calling for
an account of all payments from the secret service fund; for communications
made by Mr. Webster to Messrs. Adams and Gushing of the Committee on
Foreign Affairs; for all papers relating to McLeod, and for the minutes of
the committee on Foreign Affairs, to show that Mr. Webster had expressed an
opinion adverse to our claim in the Oregon dispute. Mr. Ingersoll closed
his speech by a threat of impeachment as the result and reward of all this
evil-doing, and an angry debate followed, in which Mr. Webster was attacked
and defended with equal violence. President Polk replied to the call of the
House by saying that he could not feel justified, either morally or
legally, in revealing the uses of the secret service fund. Meantime a
similar resolution was defeated in the Senate by a vote of forty-four to
one, Mr. Webster remarking that he was glad that the President had refused
the request of the House; that he should have been sorry to have seen an
important principle violated, and that he was not in the least concerned at
being thus left without an explanation; he needed no defence, he said,
against such attacks.

Mr. Ingersoll, rebuffed by the President, then made a personal explanation,
alleging specifically that Mr. Webster had made an unlawful use of the
secret service money, that he had employed it to corrupt the press, and
that he was a defaulter. Mr. Ashmun of Massachusetts replied with great
bitterness, and the charges were referred to a committee. It appeared, on
investigation, that Mr. Webster had been extremely careless in his
accounts, and had delayed in making them up and in rendering vouchers,
faults to which he was naturally prone; but it also appeared that the money
had been properly spent, that the accounts had ultimately been made up, and
that there was no evidence of improper use. The committee's report was
laid upon the table, the charges came to nothing, and Mr. Ingersoll was
left in a very unpleasant position with regard to the manner in which he
had obtained his information from the State Department. The affair is of
interest now merely as showing how deeply rooted was Mr. Webster's habitual
carelessness in money matters, even when it was liable to expose him to
very grave imputations, and what a very dangerous man he was to arouse and
put on the defensive.

Mr. Webster was absent when the intrigue and scheming of Mr. Polk
culminated in war with Mexico, and so his vote was not given either for or
against it. He opposed the volunteer system as a mongrel contrivance, and
resisted it as he had the conscription bill in the war of 1812, as
unconstitutional. He also opposed the continued prosecution of the war,
and, when it drew toward a close, was most earnest against the acquisition
of new territory. In the summer of 1847 he made an extended tour through
the Southern States, and was received there, as he had been in the West,
with every expression of interest and admiration.

The Mexican war, however, cost Mr. Webster far more than the anxiety and
disappointment which it brought to him as a public man. His second son,
Major Edward Webster, died near the City of Mexico, from disease contracted
by exposure on the march. This melancholy news reached Mr. Webster when
important matters which demanded his attention were pending in Congress.
Measures to continue the war were before the Senate even after they had
ratified the peace. These measures Mr. Webster strongly resisted, and he
also opposed, in a speech of great power, the acquisition of new
territories by conquest, as threatening the very existence of the nation,
the principles of the Constitution, and the Constitution itself. The
increase of senators, which was, of course, the object of the South in
annexing Texas and in the proposed additions from Mexico, he regarded as
destroying the balance of the government, and therefore he denounced the
plan of acquisition by conquest in the strongest terms. The course about to
be adopted, he said, will turn the Constitution into a deformity, into a
curse rather than a blessing; it will make a frame of government founded on
the grossest inequality, and will imperil the existence of the Union. With
this solemn warning he closed his speech, and immediately left Washington
for Boston, where his daughter, Mrs. Appleton, was sinking in consumption.
She died on April 28th and was buried on May 1st. Three days later, Mr.
Webster followed to the grave the body of his son Edward, which had been
brought from Mexico. Two such terrible blows, coming so near together, need
no comment. They tell their own sad story. One child only remained to him
of all who had gathered about his knees in the happy days at Portsmouth
and Boston, and his mind turned to thoughts of death as he prepared at
Marshfield a final resting-place for himself and those he had loved.
Whatever successes or defeats were still in store for him, the heavy cloud
of domestic sorrow could never be dispersed in the years that remained, nor
could the gaps which had been made be filled or forgotten.

But the sting of personal disappointment and of frustrated ambition,
trivial enough in comparison with such griefs as these, was now added to
this heavy burden of domestic affliction. The success of General Taylor in
Mexico rendered him a most tempting candidate for the Whigs to nominate.
His military services and his personal popularity promised victory, and the
fact that no one knew Taylor's political principles, or even whether he was
a Whig or a Democrat, seemed rather to increase than diminish his
attractions in the eyes of the politicians. A movement was set on foot to
bring about this nomination, and its managers planned to make Mr. Webster
Vice-President on the ticket with the victorious soldier. Such an offer was
a melancholy commentary on his ambitious hopes. He spurned the proposition
as a personal indignity, and, disapproving always of the selection of
military men for the presidency, openly refused to give his assent to
Taylor's nomination. Other trials, however, were still in store for him.
Mr. Clay was a candidate for the nomination, and many Whigs, feeling that
his success meant another party defeat, turned to Taylor as the only
instrument to prevent this danger. In February, 1848, a call was issued in
New York for a public meeting to advance General Taylor's candidacy, which
was signed by many of Mr. Webster's personal and political friends. Mr.
Webster was surprised and grieved, and bitterly resented this action. His
biographer, Mr. Curtis, speaks of it as a blunder which rendered Mr.
Webster's nomination hopeless. The truth is, that it was a most significant
illustration of the utter futility of Mr. Webster's presidential
aspirations. These friends in New York, who no doubt honestly desired his
nomination, were so well satisfied that it was perfectly impracticable,
that they turned to General Taylor to avoid the disaster threatened, as
they believed, by Mr. Clay's success. Mr. Webster predicted truly that Clay
and Taylor would be the leading candidates before the convention, but he
was wholly mistaken in supposing that the movement in New York would bring
about the nomination of the former. His friends had judged rightly. Taylor
was the only man who could defeat Clay, and he was nominated on the fourth
ballot. Massachusetts voted steadily for Webster, but he never approached a
nomination. Even Scott had twice as many votes. The result of the
convention led Mr. Webster to take a very gloomy view of the prospects of
the Whigs, and he was strongly inclined to retire to his tent and let them
go to deserved ruin. In private conversation he spoke most disparagingly of
the nomination, the Whig party, and the Whig candidate. His strictures were
well deserved, but, as the election drew on, he found or believed it to be
impossible to live up to them. He was not ready to go over to the Free-Soil
party, he could not remain silent, yet he could not give Taylor a full
support. In September, 1848, he made his famous speech at Marshfield, in
which, after declaring that the "sagacious, wise, far-seeing doctrine of
_availability_ lay at the root of the whole matter," and that "the
nomination was one not fit to be made," he said that General Taylor was
personally a brave and honorable man, and that, as the choice lay between
him and the Democratic candidate, General Cass, he should vote for the
former and advised his friends to do the same. He afterwards made another
speech, in a similar but milder strain, in Faneuil Hall. Mr. Webster's
attitude was not unlike that of Hamilton when he published his celebrated
attack on Adams, which ended by advising all men to vote for that
objectionable man. The conclusion was a little impotent in both instances,
but in Mr. Webster's case the results were better. The politicians and
lovers of availability had judged wisely, and Taylor was triumphantly

Before the new President was inaugurated, in the winter of 1848-49, the
struggle began in Congress, which led to the delivery of the 7th of March
speech by Mr. Webster in the following year. At this point, therefore, it
becomes necessary to turn back and review briefly and rapidly Mr. Webster's
course in regard to the question of slavery.

His first important utterance on this momentous question was in 1819, when
the land was distracted with the conflict which had suddenly arisen over
the admission of Missouri. Massachusetts was strongly in favor of the
exclusion of slavery from the new States, and utterly averse to any
compromise. A meeting was held in the state-house at Boston, and a
committee was appointed to draft a memorial to Congress, on the subject of
the prohibition of slavery in the territories. This memorial,--which was
afterwards adopted,--was drawn by Mr. Webster, as chairman of the
committee. It set forth, first, the belief of its signers that Congress had
the constitutional power "to make such a prohibition a condition on the
admission of a new State into the Union, and that it is just and proper
that they should exercise that power." Then came an argument on the
constitutional question, and then the reasons for the exercise of the power
as a general policy. The first point was that it would prevent further
inequality of representation, such as existed under the Constitution in
the old States, but which could not be increased without danger. The next
argument went straight to the merits of the question, as involved in
slavery as a system. After pointing out the value of the ordinance of 1787
to the Northwest, the memorial continued:--

     "We appeal to the justice and the wisdom of the national councils
     to prevent the further progress of a great and serious evil. We
     appeal to those who look forward to the remote consequences of
     their measures, and who cannot balance a temporary or trifling
     convenience, if there were such, against a permanent growing and
     desolating evil.

     "... The Missouri territory is a new country. If its extensive and
     fertile fields shall be opened as a market for slaves, the
     government will seem to become a party to a traffic, which in so
     many acts, through so many years, it has denounced as impolitic,
     unchristian, and inhuman.... The laws of the United States have
     denounced heavy penalties against the traffic in slaves, because
     such traffic is deemed unjust and inhuman. We appeal to the spirit
     of these laws; we appeal to this justice and humanity; we ask
     whether they ought not to operate, on the present occasion, with
     all their force? We have a strong feeling of the injustice of any
     toleration of slavery. Circumstances have entailed it on a portion
     of our community, which cannot be immediately relieved from it
     without consequences more injurious than the suffering of the evil.
     But to permit it in a new country, where yet no habits are formed
     which render it indispensable, what is it but to encourage that
     rapacity and fraud and violence against which we have so long
     pointed the denunciation of our penal code? What is it but to
     tarnish the proud fame of the country? What is it but to render
     questionable all its professions of regard for the rights of
     humanity and the liberties of mankind."

A year later Mr. Webster again spoke on one portion of this subject, and in
the same tone of deep hostility and reproach. This second instance was that
famous and much quoted passage of his Plymouth oration in which he
denounced the African slave-trade. Every one remembers the ringing words:--

     "I hear the sound of the hammer, I see the smoke of the furnaces
     where manacles and fetters are still forged for human limbs. I see
     the visages of those who, by stealth and at midnight, labor in this
     work of hell,--foul and dark as may become the artificers of such
     instruments of misery and torture. Let that spot be purified, or
     let it cease to be of New England. Let it be purified, or let it be
     set aside from the Christian world; let it be put out of the circle
     of human sympathies and human regards, and let civilized man
     henceforth have no communion with it."

This is directed against the African slave-trade, the most hideous feature,
perhaps, in the system. But there was no real distinction between slavers
plying from one American port to another and those which crossed the ocean
for the same purpose. There was no essential difference between slaves
raised for the market in Virginia--whence they were exported and sold--and
those kidnapped for the same object on the Guinea coast. The physical
suffering of a land journey might be less than that of a long sea-voyage,
but the anguish of separation between mother and child was the same in all
cases. The chains which clanked on the limbs of the wretched creatures,
driven from the auction block along the road which passed beneath the
national capitol, and the fetters of the captured fugitive were no softer
or lighter than those forged for the cargo of the slave-ships. Yet the man
who so magnificently denounced the one in 1820, found no cause to repeat
the denunciation in 1850, when only domestic traffic was in question. The
memorial of 1819 and the oration of 1820 place the African slave-trade and
the domestic branch of the business on precisely the same ground of infamy
and cruelty. In 1850 Mr. Webster seems to have discovered that there was a
wide gulf fixed between them, for the latter wholly failed to excite the
stern condemnation poured forth by the memorialist of 1819 and the orator
of 1820. The Fugitive Slave Law, more inhuman than either of the forms of
traffic, was defended in 1850 on good constitutional grounds; but the
eloquent invective of the early days against an evil which constitutions
might necessitate but could not alter or justify, does not go hand in hand
with the legal argument.

The next occasion after the Missouri Compromise, on which slavery made its
influence strongly felt at Washington, was when Mr. Adams's scheme of the
Panama mission aroused such bitter and unexpected resistance in Congress.
Mr. Webster defended the policy of the President with great ability, but he
confined himself to the international and constitutional questions which it
involved, and did not discuss the underlying motive and true source of the
opposition. The debate on Foote's resolution in 1830, in the wide range
which it took, of course included slavery, and Mr. Hayne had a good deal to
say on that subject, which lay at the bottom of the tariff agitation, as it
did at that of every Southern movement of any real importance. In his
reply, Mr. Webster said that he had made no attack upon this sensitive
institution, that he had simply stated that the Northwest had been greatly
benefited by the exclusion of slavery, and that it would have been better
for Kentucky if she had come within the scope of the ordinance of 1787. The
weight of his remarks was directed to showing that the complaint of
Northern attacks on slavery as existing in the Southern States, or of
Northern schemes to compel the abolition of slavery, was utterly groundless
and fallacious. At the same time he pointed out the way in which slavery
was continually used to unite the South against the North.

     "This feeling," he said, "always carefully kept alive, and
     maintained at too intense a heat to admit discrimination or
     reflection, is a lever of great power in our political machine.
     There is not and never has been a disposition in the North to
     interfere with these interests of the South. Such interference has
     never been supposed to be within the power of government; nor has
     it been in any way attempted. The slavery of the South has always
     been regarded as a matter of domestic policy left with the States
     themselves, and with which the Federal government had nothing to
     do. Certainly, sir, I am and ever have been of that opinion. The
     gentleman, indeed, argues that slavery, in the abstract, is no
     evil. Most assuredly, I need not say I differ with him altogether
     and most widely on that point. I regard domestic slavery as one of
     the greatest evils, both moral and political."

His position is here clearly defined. He admits fully that slavery within
the States cannot be interfered with by the general government, under the
Constitution. But he also insists that it is a great evil, and the obvious
conclusion is, that its extension, over which the government does have
control, must and should be checked. This is the attitude of the memorial
and the oration. Nothing has yet changed. There is less fervor in the
denunciation of slavery, but that may be fairly attributed to circumstances
which made the maintenance of the general government and the enforcement of
the revenue laws the main points in issue.

In 1836 the anti-slavery movement, destined to grow to such vast
proportions, began to show itself in the Senate. The first contest came on
the reception of petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of
Columbia. Mr. Calhoun moved that these petitions should not be received,
but his motion was rejected by a large majority. The question then came on
the petitions themselves, and, by a vote of thirty-four to six, their
prayer was rejected, Mr. Webster voting with the minority because he
disapproved this method of disposing of the matter. Soon after, Mr. Webster
presented three similar petitions, two from Massachusetts and one from
Michigan, and moved their reference to a committee of inquiry. He stated
that, while the government had no power whatever over slavery in the
States, it had complete control over slavery in the District, which was a
totally distinct affair. He urged a respectful treatment of the petitions,
and defended the right of petition and the motives and characters of the
petitioners. He spoke briefly, and, except when he was charged with placing
himself at the head of the petitioners, coldly, and did not touch on the
merits of the question, either as to the abolition of slavery in the
District or as to slavery itself.

The Southerners, especially the extremists and the nullifiers, were always
more ready than any one else to strain the powers of the central government
to the last point, and use them most tyrannically and illegally in their
own interest and in that of their pet institution. The session of 1836
furnished a striking example of this characteristic quality. Mr. Calhoun
at that time introduced his monstrous bill to control the United States
mails in the interests of slavery, by authorizing postmasters to seize and
suppress all anti-slavery documents. Against this measure Mr. Webster spoke
and voted, resting his opposition on general grounds, and sustaining it by
a strong and effective argument. In the following year, on his way to the
North, after the inauguration of Mr. Van Buren, a great public reception
was given to him in New York, and on that occasion he made the speech in
Niblo's Garden, where he defined the Whig principles, arraigned so
powerfully the policy of Jackson, and laid the foundation for the triumphs
of the Harrison campaign. In the course of that speech he referred to
Texas, and strongly expressed his belief that it should remain independent
and should not be annexed. This led him to touch upon slavery. He said:--

     "I frankly avow my entire unwillingness to do anything that shall
     extend the slavery of the African race on this continent, or add
     other slave-holding States to the Union. When I say that I regard
     slavery in itself as a great moral, social, and political evil, I
     only use the language which has been adopted by distinguished men,
     themselves citizens of slave-holding States. I shall do nothing,
     therefore, to favor or encourage its further extension. We have
     slavery already amongst us. The Constitution found it in the Union,
     it recognized it, and gave it solemn guaranties. To the full
     extent of the guaranties we are all bound in honor, in justice, and
     by the Constitution.... But when we come to speak of admitting new
     States, the subject assumes an entirely different aspect.... In my
     opinion, the people of the United States will not consent to bring
     into the Union a new, vastly extensive, and slave-holding country,
     large enough for half a dozen or a dozen States. In my opinion,
     they ought not to consent to it.... On the general question of
     slavery a great portion of the community is already strongly
     excited. The subject has not only attracted attention as a question
     of politics, but it has struck a far deeper-toned chord. It has
     arrested the religious feeling of the country; it has taken strong
     hold on the consciences of men. He is a rash man, indeed, and
     little conversant with human nature, and especially has he a very
     erroneous estimate of the character of the people of this country,
     who supposes that a feeling of this kind is to be trifled with or
     despised. It will assuredly cause itself to be respected. It may be
     reasoned with, it may be made willing--I believe it is entirely
     willing--to fulfil all existing engagements and all existing
     duties, to uphold and defend the Constitution as it is established,
     with whatever regrets about some provisions which it does actually
     contain. But to coerce it into silence, to endeavor to restrain its
     free expression, to seek to compress and confine it, warm as it is
     and more heated as such endeavors would inevitably render
     it,--should this be attempted, I know nothing, even in the
     Constitution or in the Union itself, which would not be endangered
     by the explosion which might follow."

Thus Mr. Webster spoke on slavery and upon the agitation against it, in
1837. The tone was the same as in 1820, and there was the same ring of
dignified courage and unyielding opposition to the extension and
perpetuation of a crying evil.

In the session of Congress preceding the speech at Niblo's Garden, numerous
petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District had been offered.
Mr. Webster reiterated his views as to the proper disposition to be made of
them; but announced that he had no intention of expressing an opinion as to
the merits of the question. Objections were made to the reception of the
petitions, the question was stated on the reception, and the whole matter
was laid on the table. The Senate, under the lead of Calhoun, was trying to
shut the door against the petitioners, and stifle the right of petition;
and there was no John Quincy Adams among them to do desperate battle
against this infamous scheme.

In the following year came more petitions, and Mr. Calhoun now attempted to
stop the agitation in another fashion. He introduced a resolution to the
effect that these petitions were a direct and dangerous attack on the
"institution" of the slave-holding States. This Mr. Clay improved in a
substitute, which stated that any act or measure of Congress looking to the
abolition of slavery in the District would be a violation of the faith
implied in the cession by Virginia and Maryland,--a just cause of alarm to
the South, and having a direct tendency to disturb and endanger the Union.
Mr. Webster wrote to a friend that this was an attempt to make a new
Constitution, and that the proceedings of the Senate, when they passed the
resolutions, drew a line which could never be obliterated. Mr. Webster also
spoke briefly against the resolutions, confining himself strictly to
demonstrating the absurdity of Mr. Clay's doctrine of "plighted faith." He
disclaimed carefully, and even anxiously, any intention of expressing an
opinion on the merits of the question; although he mentioned one or two
reasonable arguments against abolition. The resolutions were adopted by a
large majority, Mr. Webster voting against them on the grounds set forth in
his speech. Whether the approaching presidential election had any
connection with his careful avoidance of everything except the
constitutional point, which contrasted so strongly with his recent
utterances at Niblo's Garden, it is, of course, impossible to determine.
John Quincy Adams, who had no love for Mr. Webster, and who was then in the
midst of his desperate struggle for the right of petition, says, in his
diary, in March, 1838, speaking of the delegation from Massachusetts:--

     "Their policy is dalliance with the South; and they care no more
     for the right of petition than is absolutely necessary to satisfy
     the feeling of their constituents. They are jealous of Cushing,
     who, they think, is playing a double game. They are envious of my
     position as the supporter of the right of petition; and they
     truckle to the South to court their favor for Webster. He is now
     himself tampering with the South on the slavery and the Texas

This harsh judgment may or may not be correct, but it shows very plainly
that Mr. Webster's caution in dealing with these topics was noticed and
criticised at this period. The annexation of Texas, moreover, which he had
so warmly opposed, seemed to him, at this juncture, and not without reason,
to be less threatening, owing to the course of events in the young
republic. Mr. Adams did not, however, stand alone in thinking that Mr.
Webster, at this time, was lukewarm on the subject. In 1839 Mr. Giddings
says "that it was impossible for any man, who submitted so quietly to the
dictation of slavery as Mr. Webster, to command that influence which was
necessary to constitute a successful politician." How much Mr. Webster's
attitude had weakened, just at this period, is shown better by his own
action than by anything Mr. Giddings could say. The ship Enterprise,
engaged in the domestic slave-trade from Virginia to New Orleans, had been
driven into Port Hamilton, and the slaves had escaped. Great Britain
refused compensation. Thereupon, early in 1840, Mr. Calhoun introduced
resolutions declaratory of international law on this point, and setting
forth that England had no right to interfere with, or to permit, the
escape of slaves from vessels driven into her ports. The resolutions were
idle, because they could effect nothing, and mischievous because they
represented that the sentiment of the Senate was in favor of protecting the
slave-trade. Upon these resolutions, absurd in character and barbarous in
principle, Mr. Webster did not even vote. There is a strange contrast here
between the splendid denunciation of the Plymouth oration and this utter
lack of opinion, upon resolutions designed to create a sentiment favorable
to the protection of slave-ships engaged in the domestic traffic. Soon
afterwards, when Mr. Webster was Secretary of State, he advanced much the
same doctrine in the discussion of the Creole case, and his letter was
approved by Calhoun. There may be merit in the legal argument, but the
character of the cargo, which it was sought to protect, put it beyond the
reach of law. We have no need to go farther than the Plymouth oration to
find the true character of the trade in human beings as carried on upon the
high seas.

After leaving the cabinet, and resuming his law practice, Mr. Webster, of
course, continued to watch with attention the progress of events. The
formation of the Liberty party, in the summer of 1843, appeared to him a
very grave circumstance. He had always understood the force of the
anti-slavery movement at the North, and it was with much anxiety that he
now saw it take definite shape, and assume extreme grounds of opposition.
This feeling of anxiety was heightened when he discovered, in the following
winter, while in attendance upon the Supreme Court at Washington, the
intention of the administration to bring about the annexation of Texas, and
spring the scheme suddenly upon the country. This policy, with its
consequence of an enormous extension of slave territory, Mr. Webster had
always vigorously and consistently opposed, and he was now thoroughly
alarmed. He saw what an effect the annexation would produce upon the
anti-slavery movement, and he dreaded the results. He therefore procured
the introduction of a resolution in Congress against annexation; wrote some
articles in the newspapers against it himself; stirred up his friends in
Washington and New York to do the same, and endeavored to start public
meetings in Massachusetts. His friends in Boston and elsewhere, and the
Whigs generally, were disposed to think his alarm ill-founded. They were
absorbed in the coming presidential election, and were too ready to do Mr.
Webster the injustice of supposing that his views upon the probability of
annexation sprang from jealousy of Mr. Clay. The suspicion was unfounded
and unfair. Mr. Webster was wholly right and perfectly sincere. He did a
good deal in an attempt to rouse the North. The only criticism to be made
is that he did not do more. One public meeting would have been enough, if
he had spoken frankly, declared that he knew, no matter how, that
annexation was contemplated, and had then denounced it as he did at Niblo's
Garden. "One blast upon his bugle-horn were worth a thousand men." Such a
speech would have been listened to throughout the length and breadth of the
land; but perhaps it was too much to expect this of him in view of his
delicate relations with Mr. Clay. At a later period, in the course of the
campaign, he denounced annexation and the increase of slave territory, but
unfortunately it was then too late. The Whigs had preserved silence on the
subject at their convention, and it was difficult to deal with it without
reflecting on their candidate. Mr. Webster vindicated his own position and
his own wisdom, but the mischief could not then be averted. The annexation
of Texas after the rejection of the treaty in 1844 was carried through,
nearly a year later, by a mixture of trickery and audacity in the last
hours of the Tyler administration.

Four days after the consummation of this project Mr. Webster took his seat
in the Senate, and on March 11 wrote to his son that, "while we feel as we
ought about the annexation of Texas, we ought to keep in view the true
grounds of objection to that measure. Those grounds are,--want of
constitutional power,--danger of too great an extent of territory, and
opposition to the increase of slavery and slave representation. It was
properly considered, also, as a measure tending to produce war." He then
goes on to argue that Mexico had no good cause for war; but it is evident
that he already dreaded just that result. When Congress assembled again, in
the following December, the first matter to engage their attention was the
admission of Texas as a State of the Union. It was impossible to prevent
the passage of the resolution, but Mr. Webster stated his objections to the
measure. His speech was brief and very mild in tone, if compared with the
language which he had frequently used in regard to the annexation. He
expressed his opposition to this method of obtaining new territory by
resolution instead of treaty, and to acquisition of territory as foreign to
the true spirit of the Republic, and as endangering the Constitution and
the Union by increasing the already existing inequality of representation,
and extending the area of slavery. He dwelt on the inviolability of slavery
in the States, and did not touch upon the evils of the system itself.

By the following spring the policy of Mr. Polk had culminated, intrigue had
done its perfect work, hostilities had been brought on with Mexico, and in
May Congress was invited to declare a war which the administration had
taken care should already exist. Mr. Webster was absent at this time, and
did not vote on the declaration of war; and when he returned he confined
himself to discussing the war measures, and to urging the cessation of
hostilities, and the renewal of efforts to obtain peace.

The next session--that of the winter of 1846-47--was occupied, of course,
almost entirely with the affairs of the war. In these measures Mr. Webster
took scarcely any part; but toward the close of the session, when the terms
on which the war should be concluded were brought up, he again came
forward. February 1, 1847, Mr. Wilmot of Pennsylvania introduced the famous
proviso, which bears his name, as an amendment to the bill appropriating
three millions of dollars for extraordinary expenses. By this proviso
slavery was to be excluded from all territory thereafter acquired or
annexed by the United States. A fortnight later Mr. Webster, who was
opposed to the acquisition of more territory on any terms, introduced two
resolutions in the Senate, declaring that the war ought not to be
prosecuted for the acquisition of territory, and that Mexico should be
informed that we did not aim at seizing her domain. A similar resolution
was offered by Mr. Berrien of Georgia, and defeated by a party vote. On
this occasion Mr. Webster spoke with great force and in a tone of solemn
warning against the whole policy of territorial aggrandizement. He
denounced all that had been done in this direction, and attacked with
telling force the Northern democracy, which, while it opposed slavery and
favored the Wilmot Proviso, was yet ready to admit new territory, even
without the proviso. His attitude at this time, in opposition to any
further acquisition of territory on any terms, was strong and determined,
but his policy was a terrible confession of weakness. It amounted to saying
that we must not acquire territory because we had not sufficient courage to
keep slavery out of it. The Whigs were in a minority, however, and Mr.
Webster could effect nothing. When the Wilmot Proviso came before the
Senate Mr. Webster voted for it, but it was defeated, and the way was clear
for Mr. Polk and the South to bring in as much territory as they could get,
free of all conditions which could interfere with the extension of slavery.
In September, 1847, after speaking and voting as has just been described in
the previous session of Congress, Mr. Webster addressed the Whig convention
at Springfield on the subject of the Wilmot Proviso. What he then said is
of great importance in any comparison which may be made between his earlier
views and those which he afterwards put forward, in March, 1850, on the
same subject. The passage is as follows:--

     "We hear much just now of a panacea for the dangers and evils of
     slavery and slave annexation, which they call the 'Wilmot Proviso.'
     That certainly is a just sentiment, but it is not a sentiment to
     found any new party upon. It is not a sentiment on which
     Massachusetts Whigs differ. There is not a man in this hall who
     holds to it more firmly than I do, nor one who adheres to it more
     than another.

     "I feel some little interest in this matter, sir. Did I not commit
     myself in 1837 to the whole doctrine, fully, entirely? And I must
     be permitted to say that I cannot quite consent that more recent
     discoverers should claim the merit, and take out a patent.

     "I deny the priority of their invention. Allow me to say, sir, it
     is not their thunder.

     "There is no one who can complain of the North for resisting the
     increase of slave representation, because it gives power to the
     minority in a manner inconsistent with the principles of our
     government. What is past must stand; what is established must
     stand; and with the same firmness with which I shall resist every
     plan to augment the slave representation, or to bring the
     Constitution into hazard by attempting to extend our dominions,
     shall I contend to allow existing rights to remain.

     "Sir, I can only say that, in my judgment, we are to use the first,
     the last, and every occasion which occurs, in maintaining our
     sentiments against the extension of the slave-power."

In the following winter Mr. Webster continued his policy of opposition to
all acquisitions of territory. Although the cloud of domestic sorrow was
already upon him, he spoke against the legislative powers involved in the
"Ten Regiment" Bill, and on the 23d of March, after the ratification of the
treaty of peace, which carried with it large cessions of territory, he
delivered a long and elaborate speech on the "Objects of the Mexican War."
The weight of his speech was directed against the acquisition of
territory, on account of its effect on the Constitution, and the increased
inequality of representation which it involved. He referred to the plan of
cutting up Texas so as to obtain ten senators, as "borough mongering" on a
grand scale, a course which he proposed to resist to the last; and he
concluded by denouncing the whole project as one calculated to turn the
Constitution into a curse rather than a blessing. "I resist it to-day and
always," he said. "Whoever falters or whoever flies, I continue the

In June General Taylor was nominated, and soon after Mr. Webster left
Washington, although Congress was still in session. He returned in August,
in time to take part in the settlement of the Oregon question. The South,
with customary shrewdness, was endeavoring to use the territorial
organization of Oregon as a lever to help them in their struggle to gain
control of the new conquests. A bill came up from the House with no
provision in regard to slavery, and Mr. Douglas carried an amendment to it,
declaring the Missouri Compromise to be in full force in Oregon. The House
disagreed, and, on the question of receding, Mr. Webster took occasion to
speak on the subject of slavery in the territories. He was disgusted with
the nomination of Taylor and with the cowardly silence of the Whigs on the
question of the extension of slavery. In this frame of mind he made one of
the strongest and best speeches he ever delivered on this topic. He denied
that slavery was an "institution;" he denied that the local right to hold
slaves implied the right of the owner to carry them with him and keep them
in slavery on free soil; he stated in the strongest possible manner the
right of Congress to control slavery or to prohibit it in the territories;
and he concluded with a sweeping declaration of his opposition to any
extension of slavery or any increase of slave representation. The Oregon
bill finally passed under the pressure of the "Free-Soil" nominations, with
a clause inserted in the House, embodying substantially the principles of
the Wilmot Proviso.

When Congress adjourned, Mr. Webster returned to Marshfield, where he made
the speech on the nomination of General Taylor. It was a crisis in his
life. At that moment he could have parted with the Whigs and put himself at
the head of the constitutional anti-slavery party. The Free-Soilers had
taken the very ground against the extension of slavery which he had so long
occupied. He could have gone consistently, he could have separated from the
Whigs on a great question of principle, and such a course would have been
no stronger evidence of personal disappointment than was afforded by the
declaration that the nomination of Taylor was one not fit to be made. Mr.
Webster said that he fully concurred in the main object of the Buffalo
Convention, that he was as good a Free-Soiler as any of them, but that the
Free-Soil party presented nothing new or valuable, and he did not believe
in Mr. Van Buren. He then said it was not true that General Taylor was
nominated by the South, as charged by the Free-Soilers; but he did not
confess, what was equally true, that Taylor was nominated through fear of
the South, as was shown by his election by Southern votes. Mr. Webster's
conclusion was, that it was safer to trust a slave-holder, a man without
known political opinions, and a party which had not the courage of its
convictions, than to run the risk of the election of another Democrat. Mr.
Webster's place at that moment was at the head of a new party based on the
principles which he had himself formulated against the extension of
slavery. Such a change might have destroyed his chances for the presidency,
if he had any, but it would have given him one of the greatest places in
American history and made him the leader in the new period. He lost his
opportunity. He did not change his party, but he soon after accepted the
other alternative and changed his opinions.

His course once taken, he made the best of it, and delivered a speech in
Faneuil Hall, in which it is painful to see the effort to push aside
slavery and bring forward the tariff and the sub-treasury. He scoffed at
this absorption in "one idea," and strove to thrust it away. It was the
cry of "peace, peace," when there was no peace, and when Daniel Webster
knew there could be none until the momentous question had been met and
settled. Like the great composer who heard in the first notes of his
symphony "the hand of Fate knocking at the door," the great New England
statesman heard the same warning in the hoarse murmur against slavery, but
he shut his ears to the dread sound and passed on.

When Mr. Webster returned to Washington, after the election of General
Taylor, the strife had already begun over our Mexican conquests. The South
had got the territory, and the next point was to fasten slavery upon it.
The North was resolved to prevent the further spread of slavery, but was by
no means so determined or so clear in its views as its opponent. President
Polk urged in his message that Congress should not legislate on the
question of slavery in the territories, but that if they did, the right of
slave-holders to carry their slaves with them to the new lands should be
recognized, and that the best arrangement was to extend the line of the
Missouri Compromise to the Pacific. For the originator and promoter of the
Mexican war this was a very natural solution, and was a fit conclusion to
one of the worst presidential careers this country has ever seen. The plan
had only one defect. It would not work. One scheme after another was
brought before the Senate, only to fail. Finally, Mr. Webster introduced
his own, which was merely to authorize military government and the
maintenance of existing laws in the Mexican cessions, and a consequent
postponement of the question. The proposition was reasonable and sensible,
but it fared little better than the others. The Southerners found, as they
always did sooner or later, that facts were against them. The people of New
Mexico petitioned for a territorial government and for the exclusion of
slavery. Mr. Calhoun pronounced this action "insolent." Slavery was not
only to be permitted, but the United States government was to be made to
force it upon the people of the territories. Finally, a resolution was
offered "to extend the Constitution" to the territories,--one of those
utterly vague propositions in which the South delighted to hide
well-defined schemes for extending, not the Constitution, but
slave-holding, to fresh fields and virgin soil. This gave rise to a sharp
debate between Mr. Webster and Mr. Calhoun as to whether the Constitution
extended to the territories or not. Mr. Webster upheld the latter view, and
the discussion is chiefly interesting from the fact that Mr. Webster got
the better of Mr. Calhoun in the argument, and as an example of the
latter's excessive ingenuity in sustaining and defending a more than
doubtful proposition. The result of the whole business was, that nothing
was done, except to extend the revenue laws of the United States to New
Mexico and California.

Before Congress again assembled, one of the subjects of their debates had
taken its fortunes into its own hands. California, rapidly peopled by the
discoveries of gold, had held a convention and adopted a frame of
government with a clause prohibiting slavery. When Congress met, the
Senators and Representatives of California were in Washington with their
free Constitution in their hands, demanding the admission of their State
into the Union.

New Mexico was involved in a dispute with Texas as to boundaries, and if
the claim of Texas was sanctioned, two thirds of the disputed territory
would come within the scope of the annexation resolutions, and be
slave-holding States. Then there was the further question whether the
Wilmot Proviso should be applied to New Mexico on her organization as a

The President, acting under the influence of Mr. Seward, advised that
California should be admitted, and the question of slavery in the other
territories be decided when they should apply for admission. Feeling was
running very high in Washington, and there was a bitter and protracted
struggle of three weeks, before the House succeeded in choosing a Speaker.
The State Legislatures on both sides took up the burning question, and
debated and resolved one way or the other with great excitement. The
Southern members held meetings, and talked about secession and about
withdrawing from Congress. The air was full of murmurs of dissolution and
intestine strife. The situation was grave and even threatening.

In this state of affairs Mr. Clay, now an old man, and with but a short
term of life before him, resolved to try once more to solve the problem and
tide over the dangers by a grand compromise. The main features of his plan
were: the admission of California with her free Constitution; the
organization of territorial governments in the Mexican conquests without
any reference to slavery; the adjustment of the Texan boundary; a guaranty
of the existence of slavery in the District of Columbia until Maryland
should consent to its abolition; the prohibition of the slave-trade in the
District; provision for the more effectual enforcement of the Fugitive
Slave Law, and a declaration that Congress had no power over the
slave-trade between the slave-holding States. As the admission of
California was certain, the proposition to bring about the prohibition of
the slave-trade in the District was the only concession to the North.
Everything else was in the interest of the South; but then that was always
the manner in which compromises with slavery were made. They could be
effected in no other way.

This outline Mr. Clay submitted to Mr. Webster January 21, 1850, and Mr.
Webster gave it his full approval, subject, of course, to further and more
careful consideration. February 5 Mr. Clay introduced his plan in the
Senate, and supported it in an eloquent speech. On the 13th the President
submitted the Constitution of California, and Mr. Foote moved to refer it,
together with all matters relating to slavery, to a select committee. It
now became noised about that Mr. Webster intended to address the Senate on
the pending measures, and on the 7th of March he delivered the memorable
speech which has always been known by its date.

It may be premised that in a literary and rhetorical point of view the
speech of the 7th of March was a fine one. The greater part of it is taken
up with argument and statement, and is very quiet in tone. But the famous
passage beginning "peaceable secession," which came straight from the
heart, and the peroration also, have the glowing eloquence which shone with
so much splendor all through the reply to Hayne. The speech can be readily
analyzed. With extreme calmness of language Mr. Webster discussed the whole
history of slavery in ancient and modern times, and under the Constitution
of the United States. His attitude is so judicial and historical, that if
it is clear he disapproved of the system, it is not equally evident that he
condemned it. He reviewed the history of the annexation of Texas, defended
his own consistency, belittled the Wilmot Proviso, admitted substantially
the boundary claims of Texas, and declared that the character of every
part of the country, so far as slavery or freedom was concerned, was now
settled, either by law or nature, and that he should resist the insertion
of the Wilmot Proviso in regard to New Mexico, because it would be merely a
wanton taunt and reproach to the South. He then spoke of the change of
feeling and opinion both at the North and the South in regard to slavery,
and passed next to the question of mutual grievances. He depicted at length
the grievances of the South, including the tone of the Northern press, the
anti-slavery resolutions of the Legislature, the utterances of the
abolitionists, and the resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law. The last,
which he thought the only substantial and legally remediable complaint, he
dwelt on at great length, and severely condemned the refusal of certain
States to comply with this provision of the Constitution. Then came the
grievances of the North against the South, which were dealt with very
briefly. In fact, the Northern grievances, according to Mr. Webster,
consisted of the tone of the Southern press and of Southern speeches which,
it must be confessed, were at times a little violent and somewhat
offensive. The short paragraph reciting the unconstitutional and
high-handed action of the South in regard to free negroes employed as
seamen on Northern vessels, and the outrageous treatment of Mr. Hoar at
Charleston in connection with this matter, was not delivered, Mr. Giddings
says, but was inserted afterwards and before publication, at the suggestion
of a friend. After this came the fine burst about secession, and a
declaration of faith that the Southern convention called at Nashville would
prove patriotic and conciliatory. The speech concluded with a strong appeal
in behalf of nationality and union.

Mr. Curtis correctly says that a great majority of Mr. Webster's
constituents, if not of the whole North, disapproved this speech. He might
have added that that majority has steadily increased. The popular verdict
has been given against the 7th of March speech, and that verdict has passed
into history. Nothing can now be said or written which will alter the fact
that the people of this country who maintained and saved the Union have
passed judgment upon Mr. Webster and condemned what he said on the 7th of
March, 1850, as wrong in principle and mistaken in policy. This opinion is
not universal,--no opinion is,--but it is held by the great body of mankind
who know or care anything about the subject, and it cannot be changed or
substantially modified, because subsequent events have fixed its place and
worth irrevocably. It is only necessary, therefore, to examine very briefly
the grounds of this adverse judgment, and the pleas put in against it by
Mr. Webster and by his most devoted partisans.

From the sketch which has been given of Mr. Webster's course on the slavery
question, we see that in 1819 and 1820 he denounced in the strongest terms
slavery and every form of slave-trade; that while he fully admitted that
Congress had no power to touch slavery in the States, he asserted that it
was their right and their paramount duty absolutely to stop any further
extension of slave territory. In 1820 he was opposed to any compromise on
this question. Ten years later he stood out to the last, unaffected by
defeat, against the principle of compromise which sacrificed the rights and
the dignity of the general government to the resistance and threatened
secession of a State.

After the reply to Hayne in 1830, Mr. Webster became a standing candidate
for the presidency, or for the Whig nomination to that office. From that
time forth, the sharp denunciation of slavery and traffic in slaves
disappears, although there is no indication that he ever altered his
original opinion on these points; but he never ceased, sometimes mildly,
sometimes in the most vigorous and sweeping manner, to attack and oppose
the extension of slavery to new regions, and the increase of slave
territory. If, then, in the 7th of March speech, he was inconsistent with
his past, such inconsistency must appear, if at all, in his general tone in
regard to slavery, in his views as to the policy of compromise, and in his
attitude toward the extension of slavery, the really crucial question of
the time.

As to the first point, there can be no doubt that there is a vast
difference between the tone of the Plymouth oration and the Boston memorial
toward slavery and the slave-trade, and that of the 7th of March speech in
regard to the same subjects. For many years Mr. Webster had had but little
to say against slavery as a system, but in the 7th of March speech, in
reviewing the history of slavery, he treats the matter in such a very calm
manner, that he not only makes the best case possible for the South, but
his tone is almost apologetic when speaking in their behalf. To the
grievances of the South he devotes more than five pages of his speech, to
those of the North less than two. As to the infamy of making the national
capital a great slave-mart, he has nothing to say--although it was a matter
which figured as one of the elements in Mr. Clay's scheme.

But what most shocked the North in this connection were his utterances in
regard to the Fugitive Slave Law. There can be no doubt that under the
Constitution the South had a perfect right to claim the extradition of
fugitive slaves. The legal argument in support of that right was excellent,
but the Northern people could not feel that it was necessary for Daniel
Webster to make it. The Fugitive Slave Law was in absolute conflict with
the awakened conscience and moral sentiment of the North. To strengthen
that law, and urge its enforcement, was a sure way to make the resistance
to it still more violent and intolerant. Constitutions and laws will
prevail over much, and allegiance to them is a high duty, but when they
come into conflict with a deep-rooted moral sentiment, and with the
principles of liberty and humanity, they must be modified, or else they
will be broken to pieces. That this should have been the case in 1850 was
no doubt to be regretted, but it was none the less a fact. To insist upon
the constitutional duty of returning fugitive slaves, to upbraid the North
with their opposition, and to urge upon them and upon the country the
strict enforcement of the extradition law, was certain to embitter and
intensify the opposition to it. The statesmanlike course was to recognize
the ground of Northern resistance, to show the South that a too violent
insistence upon their constitutional rights would be fatal, and to endeavor
to obtain such concessions as would allay excited feelings. Mr. Webster's
strong argument in favor of the Fugitive Slave Law pleased the South, of
course; but it irritated and angered the North. It promoted the very
struggle which it proposed to allay, for it admitted the existence of only
one side to the question. The consciences of men cannot be coerced; and
when Mr. Webster undertook to do it he dashed himself against the rocks.
People did not stop to distinguish between a legal argument and a defence
of the merits of catching runaway slaves. To refer to the original law of
1793 was idle. Public opinion had changed in half a century; and what had
seemed reasonable at the close of the eighteenth century was monstrous in
the middle of the nineteenth.

All this Mr. Webster declined to recognize. He upheld without diminution or
modification the constitutional duty of sending escaping slaves back to
bondage; and from the legal soundness of this position there is no escape.
The trouble was that he had no word to say against the cruelty and
barbarity of the system. To insist upon the necessity of submitting to the
hard and repulsive duty imposed by the Constitution was one thing. To urge
submission without a word of sorrow or regret was another. The North felt,
and felt rightly, that while Mr. Webster could not avoid admitting the
force of the constitutional provisions about fugitive slaves, and was
obliged to bow to their behest, yet to defend them without reservation, to
attack those who opposed them, and to urge the rigid enforcement of a
Fugitive Slave Law, was not in consonance with his past, his conscience,
and his duty to his constituents. The constitutionality of a Fugitive Slave
Law may be urged and admitted over and over again, but this could not make
the North believe that advocacy of slave-catching was a task suited to
Daniel Webster. The simple fact was that he did not treat the general
question of slavery as he always had treated it. Instead of denouncing and
deploring it, and striking at it whenever the Constitution permitted, he
apologized for its existence, and urged the enforcement of its most
obnoxious laws. This was not his attitude in 1820; this was not what the
people of the North expected of him in 1850.

In regard to the policy of compromise there is a much stronger contrast
between Mr. Webster's attitude in 1850 and his earlier course than in the
case of his views on the general subject of slavery. In 1819, although not
in public life, Mr. Webster, as is clear from the tone of the Boston
memorial, was opposed to any compromise involving an extension of slavery.
In 1832-33 he was the most conspicuous and unyielding enemy of the
principle of compromise in the country. He then took the ground that the
time had come to test the strength of the Constitution and the Union, and
that any concession would have a fatally weakening effect. In 1850 he
supported a compromise which was so one-sided that it hardly deserves the
name. The defence offered by his friends on this subject--and it is the
strongest point they have been able to make--is that these sacrifices, or
compromises, were necessary to save the Union, and that--although they did
not prevent ultimate secession--they caused a delay of ten years, which
enabled the North to gather sufficient strength to carry the civil war to a
successful conclusion. It is not difficult to show historically that the
policy of compromise between the national principle and unlawful opposition
to that principle was an entire mistake from the very outset, and that if
illegal and partisan State resistance had always been put down with a firm
hand, civil war might have been avoided. Nothing strengthened the general
government more than the well-judged and well-timed display of force by
which Washington and Hamilton crushed the Whiskey Rebellion, or than the
happy accident of peace in 1814, which brought the separatist movement in
New England to a sudden end. After that period Mr. Clay's policy of
compromise prevailed, and the result was that the separatist movement was
identified with the maintenance of slavery, and steadily gathered strength.
In 1819 the South threatened and blustered in order to prevent the complete
prohibition of slavery in the Louisiana purchase. In 1832 South Carolina
passed the nullification ordinance because she suffered by the operation of
a protective tariff. In 1850 a great advance had been made in their
pretensions. Secession was threatened because the South feared that the
Mexican conquests would not be devoted to the service of slavery. Nothing
had been done, nothing was proposed even, prejudicial to Southern
interests; but the inherent weakness of slavery, and the mild conciliatory
attitude of Northern statesmen, incited the South to make imperious demands
for favors, and seek for positive gains. They succeeded in 1850, and in
1860 they had reached the point at which they were ready to plunge the
country into the horrors of civil war solely because they lost an
election. They believed, first, that the North would yield everything for
the sake of union, and secondly, that if there was a limit to their
capacity for surrender in this direction, yet a people capable of so much
submission in the past would never fight to maintain the Union. The South
made a terrible mistake, and was severely punished for it; but the
compromises of 1820, 1833, and 1850 furnished some excuse for the wild idea
that the North would not and could not fight. Whether a strict adherence to
the strong, fearless policy of Hamilton, which was adopted by Jackson and
advocated by Webster in 1832-33, would have prevented civil war, must, of
course, remain matter of conjecture. It is at least certain that in that
way alone could war have been avoided, and that the Clay policy of
compromise made war inevitable by encouraging slave-holders to believe that
they could always obtain anything they wanted by a sufficient show of

It is urged, however, that the policy of compromise having been adopted, a
change in 1850 would have simply precipitated the sectional conflict. In
judging Mr. Webster, the practical question, of course, is as to the best
method of dealing with matters as they actually were and not as they might
have been had a different course been pursued in 1820 and 1832. The
partisans of Mr. Webster have always taken the ground that in 1850 the
choice was between compromise and secession; that the events of 1861 showed
that the South, in 1850, was not talking for mere effect; that the
maintenance of the Union was the paramount consideration of a patriotic
statesman; and that the only practicable and proper course was to
compromise. Admitting fully that Mr. Webster's first and highest duty was
to preserve the Union, it is perfectly clear now, when all these events
have passed into history, that he took the surest way to make civil war
inevitable, and that the position of 1832 should not have been abandoned.
In the first place, the choice was not confined to compromise or secession.
The President, the official head of the Whig party, had recommended the
admission of California, as the only matter actually requiring immediate
settlement, and that the other questions growing out of the new territories
should be dealt with as they arose. Mr. Curtis, Mr. Webster's biographer,
says this was an impracticable plan, because peace could not be kept
between New Mexico and Texas, and because there was great excitement about
the slavery question throughout the country. These seem very insufficient
reasons, and only the first has any practical bearing on the matter.
General Taylor said: Admit California, for that is an immediate and
pressing duty, and I will see to it that peace is preserved on the Texan
boundary. Zachary Taylor may not have been a great statesman, but he was a
brave and skilful soldier, and an honest man, resolved to maintain the
Union, even if he had to shoot a few Texans to do it. His policy was bold
and manly, and the fact that it was said to have been inspired by Mr.
Seward, a leader in the only Northern party which had any real principle to
fight for, does not seem such a monstrous idea as it did in 1850 or does
still to those who sustain Mr. Webster's action. That General Taylor's
policy was not so wild and impracticable as Mr. Webster's friends would
have us think, is shown by the fact that Mr. Benton, Democrat and
Southerner as he was, but imbued with the vigor of the Jackson school,
believed that each question should be taken up by itself and settled on its
own merits. A policy which seemed wise to three such different men as
Taylor, Seward, and Benton, could hardly have been so utterly impracticable
and visionary as Mr. Webster's partisans would like the world to believe.
It was in fact one of the cases which that extremely practical statesman
Nicolo Machiavelli had in mind when he wrote that, "Dangers that are seen
afar off are easily prevented; but protracting till they are near at hand,
the remedies grow unseasonable and the malady incurable."

It may be readily admitted that there was a great and perilous political
crisis in 1850, as Mr. Webster said. In certain quarters, in the excitement
of party strife, there was a tendency to deride Mr. Webster as a
"Union-saver," and to take the ground that there had been no real danger of
secession. This, as we can see now very plainly, was an unfounded idea.
When Congress met, the danger of secession was very real, although perhaps
not very near. The South, although they intended to secede as a last
resort, had no idea that they should be brought to that point. Menaces of
disunion, ominous meetings and conventions, they probably calculated, would
effect their purpose and obtain for them what they wanted, and subsequent
events proved that they were perfectly right in this opinion. On February
14 Mr. Webster wrote to Mr. Harvey:--

     "I do not partake in any degree in those apprehensions which you
     say some of our friends entertain of the dissolution of the Union
     or the breaking up of the government. I am mortified, it is true,
     at the violent tone assumed here by many persons, because such
     violence in debate only leads to irritation, and is, moreover,
     discreditable to the government and the country. But there is no
     serious danger, be assured, and so assure our friends."

The next day he wrote to Mr. Furness, a leader of the anti-slavery party,
expressing his abhorrence of slavery as an institution, his unwillingness
to break up the existing political system to secure its abolition, and his
belief that the whole matter must be left with Divine Providence. It is
clear from this letter that he had dismissed any thought of assuming an
aggressive attitude toward slavery, but there is nothing to indicate that
he thought the Union could be saved from wreck only by substantial
concessions to the South. Between the date of the letter to Harvey and
March 7, Mr. Curtis says that the aspect of affairs had materially changed,
and that the Union was in serious peril. There is nothing to show that Mr.
Webster thought so, or that he had altered the opinion which he had
expressed on February 14. In fact, Mr. Curtis's view is the exact reverse
of the true state of affairs. If there was any real and immediate danger to
the Union, it existed on February 14, and ceased immediately afterwards, on
February 16, as Dr. Von Holst correctly says, when the House of
Representatives laid on the table the resolution of Mr. Root of Ohio,
prohibiting the extension of slavery to the territories. By that vote, the
victory was won by the slave-power, and the peril of speedy disunion
vanished. Nothing remained but to determine how much the South would get
from their victory, and how hard a bargain they could drive. The admission
of California was no more of a concession than a resolution not to
introduce slavery in Massachusetts would have been. All the rest of the
compromise plan, with the single exception of the prohibition of the
slave-trade in the District of Columbia, was made up of concessions to the
Southern and slave-holding interest. That Henry Clay should have
originated and advocated this scheme was perfectly natural. However wrong
or mistaken, this had been his steady and unbroken policy from the outset,
as the best method of preserving the Union and advancing the cause of
nationality. Mr. Clay was consistent and sincere, and, however much he may
have erred in his general theory, he never swerved from it. But with Mr.
Webster the case was totally different. He had opposed the principle of
compromise from the beginning, and in 1833, when concession was more
reasonable than in 1850, he had offered the most strenuous and unbending
resistance. Now he advocated a compromise which was in reality little less
than a complete surrender on the part of the North. On the general question
of compromise he was, of course, grossly inconsistent, and the history of
the time, as it appears in the cold light of the present day, shows plainly
that, while he was brave and true and wise in 1833, in 1850 he was not only
inconsistent, but that he erred deeply in policy and statesmanship. It has
also been urged in behalf of Mr. Webster that he went no farther than the
Republicans in 1860 in the way of concession, and that as in 1860 so in
1850, anything was permissible which served to gain time. In the first
place, the _tu quoque_ argument proves nothing and has no weight. In the
second place, the situations in 1850 and in 1860 were very different.

There were at the former period, in reference to slavery, four parties in
the country--the Democrats, the Free-Soilers, the Abolitionists, and the
Whigs. The three first had fixed and widely-varying opinions; the last was
trying to live without opinions, and soon died. The pro-slavery Democrats
were logical and practical; the Abolitionists were equally logical but
thoroughly impracticable and unconstitutional, avowed nullifiers and
secessionists; the Free-Soilers were illogical, constitutional, and
perfectly practical. As Republicans, the Free-Soilers proved the
correctness and good sense of their position by bringing the great majority
of the Northern people to their support. But at the same time their
position was a difficult one, for while they were an anti-slavery party and
had set on foot constitutional opposition to the extension of slavery,
their fidelity to the Constitution compelled them to admit the legality of
the Fugitive Slave Law and of slavery in the States. They aimed, of course,
first to check the extension of slavery and then to efface it by gradual
restriction and full compensation to slave-holders. When they had carried
the country in 1860, they found themselves face to face with a breaking
Union and an impending war. That many of them were seriously frightened,
and, to avoid war and dissolution, would have made great concessions,
cannot be questioned; but their controlling motive was to hold things
together by any means, no matter how desperate, until they could get
possession of the government. This was the only possible and the only wise
policy, but that it involved them in some contradictions in that winter of
excitement and confusion is beyond doubt. History will judge the men and
events of 1860 according to the circumstances of the time, but nothing that
happened then has any bearing on Mr. Webster's conduct. He must be judged
according to the circumstances of 1850, and the first and most obvious fact
is, that he was not fighting merely to gain time and obtain control of the
general government. The crisis was grave and serious in the extreme, but
neither war nor secession were imminent or immediate, nor did Mr. Webster
ever assert that they were. He thought war and secession might come, and it
was against this possibility and probability that he sought to provide. He
wished to solve the great problem, to remove the source of danger, to set
the menacing agitation at rest. He aimed at an enduring and definite
settlement, and that was the purpose of the 7th of March speech. His
reasons--and of course they were clear and weighty in his own
mind--proceeded from the belief that this wretched compromise measure
offered a wise, judicious, and permanent settlement of questions which, in
their constant recurrence, threatened more and more the stability of the
Union. History has shown how wofully mistaken he was in this opinion.

The last point to be considered in connection with the 7th of March speech
is the ground then taken by Mr. Webster with reference to the extension of
slavery. To this question the speech was chiefly directed, and it is the
portion which has aroused the most heated discussion. What Mr. Webster's
views had always been on the subject of slavery extension every one knew
then and knows now. He had been the steady and uncompromising opponent of
the Southern policy, and in season and out of season, sometimes vehemently
sometimes gently, but always with firmness and clearness, he had declared
against it. The only question is, whether he departed from these
often-expressed opinions on the 7th of March. In the speech itself he
declared that he had not abated one jot in his views in this respect, and
he argued at great length to prove his consistency, which, if it were to be
easily seen of men, certainly needed neither defence nor explanation. The
crucial point was, whether, in organizing the new territories, the
principle of the Wilmot Proviso should be adopted as part of the measure.
This famous proviso Mr. Webster had declared in 1847 to represent exactly
his own views. He had then denied that the idea was the invention of any
one man, and scouted the notion that on this doctrine there could be any
difference of opinion among Whigs. On March 7 he announced that he would
not have the proviso attached to the territorial bills, and should oppose
any effort in that direction. The reasons he gave for this apparent change
were, that nature had forbidden slavery in the newly-conquered regions, and
that the proviso, under such circumstances, would be a useless taunt and
wanton insult to the South. The famous sentence in which he said that he
"would not take pains uselessly to reaffirm an ordinance of nature, nor to
reënact the will of God," was nothing but specious and brilliant rhetoric.
It was perfectly easy to employ slaves in California, if the people had not
prohibited it, and in New Mexico as well, even if there were no cotton nor
sugar nor rice plantations in either, and but little arable land in the
latter. There was a classic form of slave-labor possible in those
countries. Any school-boy could have reminded Mr. Webster of

    "Seius whose eight hundred slaves
    Sicken in Ilva's mines."

Mining was one of the oldest uses to which slave-labor had been applied,
and it still flourished in Siberia as the occupation of serfs and
criminals. Mr. Webster, of course, was not ignorant of this very obvious
fact; and that nature, therefore, instead of forbidding slave-labor in the
Mexican conquests, opened to it a new and almost unlimited field in a
region which is to-day one of the greatest mining countries in the world.
Still less could he have failed to know that this form of employment for
slaves was eagerly desired by the South; that the slave-holders fully
recognized their opportunity, announced their intention of taking
advantage of it, and were particularly indignant at the action of
California because it had closed to them this inviting field. Mr. Clingman
of North Carolina, on January 22, when engaged in threatening war in order
to bring the North to terms, had said, in the House of Representatives:
"But for the anti-slavery agitation our Southern slave-holders would have
carried their negroes into the mines of California in such numbers that I
have no doubt but that the majority there would have made it a
slave-holding State."[1] At a later period Mr. Mason of Virginia declared,
in the Senate, that he knew of no law of nature which excluded slavery from
California. "On the contrary," he said, "if California had been organized
with a territorial form of government only, the people of the Southern
States would have gone there freely, and have taken their slaves there in
great numbers. They would have done so because the value of the labor of
that class would have been augmented to them many hundred fold."[2] These
were the views of practical men and experienced slave-owners who
represented the opinions of their constituents, and who believed that
domestic slavery could be employed to advantage anywhere. Moreover, the
Southern leaders openly avowed their opposition to securing any region to
free labor exclusively, no matter what the ordinances of nature might be.
In 1848, it must be remembered in this connection, Mr. Webster not only
urged the limitation of slave area, and sustained the power of Congress to
regulate this matter in the territories, but he did not resist the final
embodiment of the principle of the Wilmot Proviso in the bill for the
organization of Oregon, where the introduction of slavery was infinitely
more unlikely than in New Mexico. Cotton, sugar, and rice were excluded,
perhaps, by nature from the Mexican conquests, but slavery was not. It was
worse than idle to allege that a law of nature forbade slaves in a country
where mines gaped to receive them. The facts are all as plain as possible,
and there is no escape from the conclusion that in opposing the Wilmot
Proviso, in 1850, Mr. Webster abandoned his principles as to the extension
of slavery. He practically stood forth as the champion of the Southern
policy of letting the new territories alone, which could only result in
placing them in the grasp of slavery. The consistency which he labored so
hard to prove in his speech was hopelessly shattered, and no ingenuity,
either then or since, can restore it.

[Footnote 1: _Congressional Globe_, 31st Congress, 1st Session, p. 203.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., Appendix, p. 510.]

A dispassionate examination of Mr. Webster's previous course on slavery,
and a careful comparison of it with the ground taken in the 7th of March
speech, shows that he softened his utterances in regard to slavery as a
system, and that he changed radically on the policy of compromise and on
the question of extending the area of slavery. There is a confused story
that in the winter of 1847-48 he had given the anti-slavery leaders to
understand that he proposed to come out on their ground in regard to
Mexico, and to sustain Corwin in his attack on the Democratic policy, but
that he failed to do so. The evidence on this point is entirely
insufficient to make it of importance, but there can be no doubt that in
the winter of 1850 Mr. Webster talked with Mr. Giddings, and led him, and
the other Free-Soil leaders, to believe that he was meditating a strong
anti-slavery speech. This fact was clearly shown in the recent newspaper
controversy which grew out of the celebration of the centennial anniversary
of Webster's birth. It is a little difficult to understand why this
incident should have roused such bitter resentment among Mr. Webster's
surviving partisans. To suppose that Mr. Webster made the 7th of March
speech after long deliberation, without having a moment's hesitation in the
matter, is to credit him with a shameless disregard of principle and
consistency, of which it is impossible to believe him guilty. He
undoubtedly hesitated, and considered deeply whether he should assume the
attitude of 1833, and stand out unrelentingly against the encroachments of
slavery. He talked with Mr. Clay on one side. He talked with Mr. Giddings,
and other Free-Soilers, on the other. With the latter the wish was no
doubt father to the thought, and they may well have imagined that Mr.
Webster had determined to go with them, when he was still in doubt and
merely trying the various positions. There is no need, however, to linger
over matters of this sort. The change made by Mr. Webster can be learned
best by careful study of his own utterances, and of his whole career. Yet,
at the same time, the greatest trouble lies not in the shifting and
inconsistency revealed by an examination of the specific points which have
just been discussed, but in the speech as a whole. In that speech Mr.
Webster failed quite as much by omissions as by the opinions which he
actually announced. He was silent when he should have spoken, and he spoke
when he should have held his peace. The speech, if exactly defined, is, in
reality, a powerful effort, not for compromise or for the Fugitive Slave
Law, or any other one thing, but to arrest the whole anti-slavery movement,
and in that way put an end to the dangers which threatened the Union and
restore lasting harmony between the jarring sections. It was a mad project.
Mr. Webster might as well have attempted to stay the incoming tide at
Marshfield with a rampart of sand as to seek to check the anti-slavery
movement by a speech. Nevertheless, he produced a great effect. His mind
once made up, he spared nothing to win the cast. He gathered all his
forces; his great intellect, his splendid eloquence, his fame which had
become one of the treasured possessions of his country,--all were given to
the work. The blow fell with terrible force, and here, at last, we come to
the real mischief which was wrought. The 7th of March speech demoralized
New England and the whole North. The abolitionists showed by bitter anger
the pain, disappointment, and dismay which this speech brought. The
Free-Soil party quivered and sank for the moment beneath the shock. The
whole anti-slavery movement recoiled. The conservative reaction which Mr.
Webster endeavored to produce came and triumphed. Chiefly by his exertions
the compromise policy was accepted and sustained by the country. The
conservative elements everywhere rallied to his support, and by his ability
and eloquence it seemed as if he had prevailed and brought the people over
to his opinions. It was a wonderful tribute to his power and influence, but
the triumph was hollow and short-lived. He had attempted to compass an
impossibility. Nothing could kill the principles of human liberty, not even
a speech by Daniel Webster, backed by all his intellect and knowledge, his
eloquence and his renown. The anti-slavery movement was checked for the
time, and pro-slavery democracy, the only other positive political force,
reigned supreme. But amid the falling ruins of the Whig party, and the
evanescent success of the Native Americans, the party of human rights
revived; and when it rose again, taught by the trials and misfortunes of
1850, it rose with a strength which Mr. Webster had never dreamed of, and,
in 1856, polled nearly a million and a half of votes for Fremont. The rise
and final triumph of the Republican party was the condemnation of the 7th
of March speech and of the policy which put the government of the country
in the hands of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. When the war came,
inspiration was not found in the 7th of March speech. In that dark hour,
men remembered the Daniel Webster who replied to Hayne, and turned away
from the man who had sought for peace by advocating the great compromise of
Henry Clay.

The disapprobation and disappointment which were manifested in the North
after the 7th of March speech could not be overlooked. Men thought and said
that Mr. Webster had spoken in behalf of the South and of slavery. Whatever
his intentions may have been, this was what the speech seemed to mean and
this was its effect, and the North saw it more and more clearly as time
went on. Mr. Webster never indulged in personal attacks, but at the same
time he was too haughty a man ever to engage in an exchange of compliments
in debate. He never was in the habit of saying pleasant things to his
opponents in the Senate merely as a matter of agreeable courtesy. In this
direction, as in its opposite, he usually maintained a cold silence. But
on the 7th of March he elaborately complimented Calhoun, and went out of
his way to flatter Virginia and Mr. Mason personally. This struck close
observers with surprise, but it was the real purpose of the speech which
went home to the people of the North. He had advocated measures which with
slight exceptions were altogether what the South wanted, and the South so
understood it. On the 30th of March Mr. Morehead wrote to Mr. Crittenden
that Mr. Webster's appointment as Secretary of State would now be very
acceptable to the South. No more bitter commentary could have been made.
The people were blinded and dazzled at first, but they gradually awoke and
perceived the error that had been committed.

Mr. Webster, however, needed nothing from outside to inform him as to his
conduct and its results. At the bottom of his heart and in the depths of
his conscience he knew that he had made a dreadful mistake. He did not
flinch. He went on in his new path without apparent faltering. His speech
on the compromise measures went farther than that of the 7th of March. But
if we study his speeches and letters between 1850 and the day of his death,
we can detect changes in them, which show plainly enough that the writer
was not at ease, that he was not master of that real conscience of which he

His friends, after the first shock of surprise, rallied to his support,
and he spoke frequently at union meetings, and undertook, by making immense
efforts, to convince the country that the compromise measures were right
and necessary, and that the doctrines of the 7th of March speech ought to
be sustained. In pursuance of this object, during the winter of 1850 and
the summer of the following year, he wrote several public letters on the
compromise measures, and he addressed great meetings on various occasions,
in New England, New York, and as far south as Virginia. We are at once
struck by a marked change in the character and tone of these speeches,
which produced a great effect in establishing the compromise policy. It had
never been Mr. Webster's habit to misrepresent or abuse his opponents. Now
he confounded the extreme separatism of the abolitionists and the
constitutional opposition of the Free-Soil party, and involved all
opponents of slavery in a common condemnation. It was wilful
misrepresentation to talk of the Free-Soilers as if they were identical
with the abolitionists, and no one knew better than Mr. Webster the
distinction between the two, one being ready to secede to get rid of
slavery, the other offering only a constitutional resistance to its
extension. His tone toward his opponents was correspondingly bitter. When
he first arrived in Boston, after his speech, and spoke to the great crowd
in front of the Revere House, he said, "I shall support no agitations
having their foundations in unreal, ghostly abstractions." Slavery had now
become "an unreal, ghostly abstraction," although it must still have
appeared to the negroes something very like a hard fact. There were men in
that crowd, too, who had not forgotten the noble words with which Mr.
Webster in 1837 had defended the character of the opponents of slavery, and
the sound of this new gospel from his lips fell strangely on their ears. So
he goes on from one union meeting to another, and in speech after speech
there is the same bitter tone which had been so foreign to him in all his
previous utterances. The supporters of the anti-slavery movement he
denounces as insane. He reiterates his opposition to slave extension, and
in the same breath argues that the Union must be preserved by giving way to
the South. The feeling is upon him that the old parties are breaking down
under the pressure of this "ghostly abstraction," this agitation which he
tries to prove to the young men of the country and to his fellow-citizens
everywhere is "wholly factitious." The Fugitive Slave Law is not in the
form which he wants, but still he defends it and supports it. The first
fruits of his policy of peace are seen in riots in Boston, and he
personally advises with a Boston lawyer who has undertaken the cases
against the fugitive slaves. It was undoubtedly his duty, as Mr. Curtis
says, to enforce and support the law as the President's adviser, but his
personal attention and interest were not required in slave cases, nor would
they have been given a year before. The Wilmot Proviso, that doctrine which
he claimed as his own in 1847, when it was a sentiment on which Whigs could
not differ, he now calls "a mere abstraction." He struggles to put slavery
aside for the tariff, but it will not down at his bidding, and he himself
cannot leave it alone. Finally he concludes this compromise campaign with a
great speech on laying the foundation of the capitol extension, and makes a
pathetic appeal to the South to maintain the Union. They are not pleasant
to read, these speeches in the Senate and before the people in behalf of
the compromise policy. They are harsh and bitter; they do not ring true.
Daniel Webster knew when he was delivering them that that was not the way
to save the Union, or that, at all events, it was not the right way for him
to do it.

The same peculiarity can be discerned in his letters. The fun and humor
which had hitherto run through his correspondence seems now to fade away as
if blighted. On September 10, 1850, he writes to Mr. Harvey that since
March 7 there has not been an hour in which he has not felt a "crushing
sense of anxiety and responsibility." He couples this with the declaration
that his own part is acted and he is satisfied; but if his anxiety was
solely of a public nature, why did it date from March 7, when, prior to
that time, there was much greater cause for alarm than afterwards. In
everything he said or wrote he continually recurs to the slavery question
and always in a defensive tone, usually with a sneer or a fling at the
abolitionists and anti-slavery party. The spirit of unrest had seized him.
He was disturbed and ill at ease. He never admitted it, even to himself,
but his mind was not at peace, and he could not conceal the fact. Posterity
can see the evidences of it plainly enough, and a man of his intellect and
fame knew that with posterity the final reckoning must be made. No man can
say that Mr. Webster anticipated the unfavorable judgment which his
countrymen have passed upon his conduct, but that in his heart he feared
such a judgment cannot be doubted.

It is impossible to determine with perfect accuracy any man's motives in
what he says or does. They are so complex, they are so often undefined,
even in the mind of the man himself, that no one can pretend to make an
absolutely correct analysis. There have been many theories as to the
motives which led Mr. Webster to make the 7th of March speech. In the heat
of contemporary strife his enemies set it down as a mere bid to secure
Southern support for the presidency, but this is a harsh and narrow view.
The longing for the presidency weakened Mr. Webster as a public man from
the time when it first took possession of him after the reply to Hayne. It
undoubtedly had a weakening effect upon him in the winter of 1850, and had
some influence upon the speech of the 7th of March. But it is unjust to say
that it did more. It certainly was far removed from being a controlling
motive. His friends, on the other hand, declare that he was governed solely
by the highest and most disinterested patriotism, by the truest wisdom.
This explanation, like that of his foes, fails by going too far and being
too simple. His motives were mixed. His chief desire was to preserve and
maintain the Union. He wished to stand forth as the great saviour and
pacificator. On the one side was the South, compact, aggressive, bound
together by slavery, the greatest political force in the country. On the
other was a weak Free-Soil party, and a widely diffused and earnest moral
sentiment without organization or tangible political power. Mr. Webster
concluded that the way to save the Union and the Constitution, and to
achieve the success which he desired, was to go with the heaviest
battalions. He therefore espoused the Southern side, for the compromise was
in the Southern interest, and smote the anti-slavery movement with all his
strength. He reasoned correctly that peace could come only by administering
a severe check to one of the two contending parties. He erred in attempting
to arrest the one which all modern history showed was irresistible. It is
no doubt true, as appears by his cabinet opinion recently printed, that he
stood ready to meet the first overt act on the part of the South with
force. Mr. Webster would not have hesitated to have struck hard at any body
of men or any State which ventured to assail the Union. But he also
believed that the true way to prevent any overt act on the part of the
South was by concession, and that was precisely the object which the
Southern leaders sought to obtain. We may grant all the patriotism and all
the sincere devotion to the cause of the Constitution which is claimed for
him, but nothing can acquit Mr. Webster of error in the methods which he
chose to adopt for the maintenance of peace and the preservation of the
Union. If the 7th of March speech was right, then all that had gone before
was false and wrong. In that speech he broke from his past, from his own
principles and from the principles of New England, and closed his splendid
public career with a terrible mistake.



The story of the remainder of Mr. Webster's public life, outside of and
apart from the slavery question, can be quickly told. General Taylor died
suddenly on July 9, 1850, and this event led to an immediate and complete
reorganization of the cabinet. Mr. Fillmore at once offered the post of
Secretary of State to Mr. Webster, who accepted it, resigned his seat in
the Senate, and, on July 23, assumed his new position. No great negotiation
like that with Lord Ashburton marked this second term of office in the
Department of State, but there were a number of important and some very
complicated affairs, which Mr. Webster managed with the wisdom, tact, and
dignity which made him so admirably fit for this high position.

The best-known incident of this period was that which gave rise to the
famous "Hülsemann letter." President Taylor had sent an agent to Hungary to
report upon the condition of the revolutionary government, with the
intention of recognizing it if there were sufficient grounds for doing so.
When the agent arrived, the revolution was crushed, and he reported to the
President against recognition. These papers were transmitted to the Senate
in March, 1850. Mr. Hülsemann, the Austrian _chargé_, thereupon complained
of the action of our administration, and Mr. Clayton, then Secretary of
State, replied that the mission of the agent had been simply to gather
information. On receiving further instructions from his government, Mr.
Hülsemann rejoined to Mr. Clayton, and it fell to Mr. Webster to reply,
which he did on December 21, 1850. The note of the Austrian _chargé_ was in
a hectoring and highly offensive tone, and Mr. Webster felt the necessity
of administering a sharp rebuke. "The Hülsemann letter," as it was called,
was accordingly dispatched. It set forth strongly the right of the United
States and their intention to recognize any _de facto_ revolutionary
government, and to seek information in all proper ways in order to guide
their action. The argument on this point was admirably and forcibly stated,
and it was accompanied by a bold vindication of the American policy, and by
some severe and wholesome reproof. Mr. Webster had two objects. One was to
awaken the people of Europe to a sense of the greatness of this country,
the other to touch the national pride at home. He did both. The foreign
representatives learned a lesson which they never forgot, and which opened
their eyes to the fact that we were no longer colonies, and the national
pride was also aroused. Mr. Webster admitted that the letter was, in some
respects, boastful and rough. This was a fair criticism, and it may be
justly said that such a tone was hardly worthy of the author. But, on the
other hand, Hülsemann's impertinence fully justified such a reply, and a
little rough domineering was, perhaps, the very thing needed. It is certain
that the letter fully answered Mr. Webster's purpose, and excited a great
deal of popular enthusiasm. The affair did not, however, end here. Mr.
Hülsemann became very mild, but he soon lost his temper again. Kossuth and
the refugees in Turkey were brought to this country in a United States
frigate. The Hungarian hero was received with a burst of enthusiasm that
induced him to hope for substantial aid, which was, of course, wholly
visionary. The popular excitement made it difficult for Mr. Webster to
steer a proper course, but he succeeded, by great tact, in showing his own
sympathy, and, so far as possible, that of the government, for the cause of
Hungarian independence and for its leader, without going too far or
committing any indiscretion which could justify a breach of international
relations with Austria. Mr. Webster's course, including a speech at a
dinner in Boston, in which he made an eloquent allusion to Hungary and
Kossuth, although carefully guarded, aroused the ire of Mr. Hülsemann, who
left the country, after writing a letter of indignant farewell to the
Secretary of State. Mr. Webster replied, through Mr. Hunter, with extreme
coolness, confining himself to an approval of the gentleman selected by Mr.
Hülsemann to represent Austria after the latter's departure.

The other affairs which occupied Mr. Webster's official attention at this
time made less noise than that with Austria, but they were more complicated
and some of them far more perilous to the peace of the country. The most
important was that growing out of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty in regard to
the neutrality of the contemplated canal in Nicaragua. This led to a
prolonged correspondence about the protectorate of Great Britain in
Nicaragua, and to a withdrawal of her claim to exact port-charges. It is
interesting to observe the influence which Mr. Webster at once obtained
with Sir Henry Bulwer and the respect in which he was held by that
experienced diplomatist. Besides this discussion with England, there was a
sharp dispute with Mexico about the right of way over the Isthmus of
Tehuantepec, and the troubles on the Texan boundary before Congress had
acted upon the subject. Then came the Lopez invasion of Cuba, supported by
bodies of volunteers enlisted in the United States, which, by its failure
and its results, involved our government in a number of difficult
questions. The most serious was the riot at New Orleans, where the Spanish
consulate was sacked by a mob. To render due reparation for this outrage
without wounding the national pride by apparent humiliation was no easy
task. Mr. Webster settled everything, however, with a judgment, tact, and
dignity which prevented war with Spain and yet excited no resentment at
home. At a later period, when the Kossuth affair was drawing to an end, the
perennial difficulty about the fisheries revived and was added to our
Central American troubles with Great Britain, and this, together with the
affair of the Lobos Islands, occupied Mr. Webster's attention, and drew
forth some able and important dispatches during the summer of 1852, in the
last months of his life.

While the struggle was in progress to convince the country of the value and
justice of the compromise measures and to compel their acceptance, another
presidential election drew on. It was the signal for the last desperate
attempt to obtain the Whig nomination for Mr. Webster, and it seemed at
first sight as if the party must finally take up the New England leader.
Mr. Clay was wholly out of the race, and his last hour was near. There was
absolutely no one who, in fame, ability, public services, and experience
could be compared for one moment with Mr. Webster. The opportunity was
obvious enough; it awakened all Mr. Webster's hopes, and excited the ardor
of his friends. A formal and organized movement, such as had never before
been made, was set on foot to promote his candidacy, and a vigorous and
earnest address to the people was issued by his friends in Massachusetts.
The result demonstrated, if demonstration were needed, that Mr. Webster had
not, even under the most favorable circumstances, the remotest chance for
the presidency. His friends saw this plainly enough before the convention
met, but he himself regarded the great prize as at last surely within his
grasp. Mr. Choate, who was to lead the Webster delegates, went to
Washington the day before the convention assembled. He called on Mr.
Webster and found him so filled with the belief that he should be nominated
that it seemed cruel to undeceive him. Mr. Choate, at all events, had not
the heart for the task, and went back to Baltimore to lead the forlorn hope
with gallant fidelity and with an eloquence as brilliant if not so grand as
that of Mr. Webster himself. A majority[1] of the convention divided their
votes very unequally between Mr. Fillmore and Mr. Webster, the former
receiving 133, the latter 29, on the first ballot, while General Scott had
131. Forty-five ballots were taken, without any substantial change, and
then General Scott began to increase his strength, and was nominated on the
fifty-third ballot, receiving 159 votes. Most of General Scott's supporters
were opposed to resolutions sustaining the compromise measures, while
those who voted for Mr. Fillmore and Mr. Webster favored that policy.
General Scott owed his nomination to a compromise, which consisted in
inserting in the platform a clause strongly approving Mr. Clay's measures.
Mr. Webster expected the Fillmore delegates to come to him, an unlikely
event when they were so much more numerous than his friends, and, moreover,
they never showed the slightest inclination to do so. They were chiefly
from the South, and as they chose to consider Mr. Fillmore and not his
secretary the representative of compromise, they reasonably enough expected
the latter to give way. The desperate stubbornness of Mr. Webster's
adherents resulted in the nomination of Scott. It seemed hard that the
Southern Whigs should have done so little for Mr. Webster after he had done
and sacrificed so much to advance and defend their interests. But the South
was practical. In the 7th of March speech they had got from Mr. Webster all
they could expect or desire. It was quite possible, in fact it was highly
probable, that, once in the presidency, he could not be controlled or
guided by the slave-power or by any other sectional influence. Mr.
Fillmore, inferior in every way to Mr. Webster in intellect, in force, in
reputation, would give them a mild, safe administration and be easily
influenced by the South. Mr. Webster had served his turn, and the men
whose cause he had advocated and whose interests he had protected cast him

[Footnote 1: Mr. Curtis says a "great majority continued to divide their
votes between Mr. Fillmore and Mr. Webster." The highest number reached by
the combined Webster and Fillmore votes, on any one ballot, was 162, three
more than was received on the last ballot by General Scott, who, Mr. Curtis
correctly says, obtained only a "few votes more than the necessary

The loss of the nomination was a bitter disappointment to Mr. Webster. It
was the fashion in certain quarters to declare that it killed him, but this
was manifestly absurd. The most that can be said in this respect was, that
the excitement and depression caused by his defeat preyed upon his mind and
thereby facilitated the inroads of disease, while it added to the clouds
which darkened round him in those last days. But his course of action after
the convention cannot be passed over without comment. He refused to give
his adhesion to General Scott's nomination, and he advised his friends to
vote for Mr. Pierce, because the Whigs were divided, while the Democrats
were unanimously determined to resist all attempts to renew the slavery
agitation. This course was absolutely indefensible. If the Whig party was
so divided on the slavery question that Mr. Webster could not support their
nominee, then he had no business to seek a nomination at their hands, for
they were as much divided before the convention as afterwards. He chose to
come before that convention, knowing perfectly well the divisions of the
party, and that the nomination might fall to General Scott. He saw fit to
play the game, and was in honor bound to abide by the rules. He had no
right to say "it is heads I win, and tails you lose." If he had been
nominated he would have indignantly and justly denounced a refusal on the
part of General Scott and his friends to support him. It is the merest
sophistry to say that Mr. Webster was too great a man to be bound by party
usages, and that he owed it to himself to rise above them, and refuse his
support to a poor nomination and to a wrangling party. If Mr. Webster could
no longer act with the Whigs, then his name had no business in that
convention at Baltimore, for the conditions were the same before its
meeting as afterward. Great man as he was, he was not too great to behave
honorably; and his refusal to support Scott, after having been his rival
for a nomination at the hands of their common party, was neither honorable
nor just. If Mr. Webster had decided to leave the Whigs and act
independently, he was in honor bound to do so before the Baltimore
convention assembled, or to have warned the delegates that such was his
intention in the event of General Scott's nomination. He had no right to
stand the hazard of the die, and then refuse to abide by the result. The
Whig party, in its best estate, was not calculated to excite a very warm
enthusiasm in the breast of a dispassionate posterity, and it is perfectly
true that it was on the eve of ruin in 1852. But it appeared better then,
in the point of self-respect, than four years before. In 1848 the Whigs
nominated a successful soldier conspicuous only for his availability and
without knowing to what party he belonged. They maintained absolute
silence on the great question of the extension of slavery, and carried on
their campaign on the personal popularity of their candidate. Mr. Webster
was righteously disgusted at their candidate and their negative attitude.
He could justly and properly have left them on a question of principle; but
he swallowed the nomination, "not fit to be made," and gave to his party a
decided and public support. In 1852 the Whigs nominated another successful
soldier, who was known to be a Whig, and who had been a candidate for their
nomination before. In their platform they formally adopted the essential
principle demanded by Mr. Webster, and declared their adhesion to the
compromise measures. If there was disaffection in regard to this
declaration of 1852, there was disaffection also about the silence of 1848.
In the former case, Mr. Webster adhered to the nomination; in the latter,
he rejected it. In 1848 he might still hope to be President through a Whig
nomination. In 1852 he knew that, even if he lived, there would never be
another chance. He gave vent to his disappointment, put no constraint upon
himself, prophesied the downfall of his party, and advised his friends to
vote for Franklin Pierce. It was perfectly logical, after advocating the
compromise measures, to advise giving the government into the hands of a
party controlled by the South. Mr. Webster would have been entirely
reasonable in taking such a course before the Baltimore convention. He had
no right to do so after he had sought a nomination from the Whigs, and it
was a breach of faith to act as he did, to advise his friends to desert a
falling party and vote for the Democratic candidate.

After the acceptance of the Department of State, Mr. Webster's health
became seriously impaired. His exertions in advocating the compromise
measures, his official labors, and the increased severity of his annual
hay-fever,--all contributed to debilitate him. His iron constitution
weakened in various ways, and especially by frequent periods of intense
mental exertion, to which were superadded the excitement and nervous strain
inseparable from his career, was beginning to give way. Slowly but surely
he lost ground. His spirits began to lose their elasticity, and he rarely
spoke without a tinge of deep sadness being apparent in all he said. In
May, 1852, while driving near Marshfield, he was thrown from his carriage
with much violence, injuring his wrists, and receiving other severe
contusions. The shock was very great, and undoubtedly accelerated the
progress of the fatal organic disease which was sapping his life. This
physical injury was followed by the keen disappointment of his defeat at
Baltimore, which preyed upon his heart and mind. During the summer of 1852
his health gave way more rapidly. He longed to resign, but Mr. Fillmore
insisted on his retaining his office. In July he came to Boston, where he
was welcomed by a great public meeting, and hailed with enthusiastic
acclamations, which did much to soothe his wounded feelings. He still
continued to transact the business of his department, and in August went to
Washington, where he remained until the 8th of September, when he returned
to Marshfield. On the 20th he went to Boston, for the last time, to consult
his physician. He appeared at a friend's house, one evening, for a few
moments, and all who then saw him were shocked at the look of illness and
suffering in his face. It was his last visit. He went back to Marshfield
the next day, never to return. He now failed rapidly. His nights were
sleepless, and there were scarcely any intervals of ease or improvement.
The decline was steady and sure, and as October wore away the end drew
near. Mr. Webster faced it with courage, cheerfulness, and dignity, in a
religious and trusting spirit, with a touch of the personal pride which was
part of his nature. He remained perfectly conscious and clear in his mind
almost to the very last moment, bearing his sufferings with perfect
fortitude, and exhibiting the tenderest affection toward the wife and son
and friends who watched over him. On the evening of October 23 it became
apparent that he was sinking, but his one wish seemed to be that he might
be conscious when he was actually dying. After midnight he roused from an
uneasy sleep, struggled for consciousness, and ejaculated, "I still live."
These were his last words. Shortly after three o'clock the labored
breathing ceased, and all was over.

A hush fell upon the country as the news of his death sped over the land. A
great gap seemed to have been made in the existence of every one. Men
remembered the grandeur of his form and the splendor of his intellect, and
felt as if one of the pillars of the state had fallen. The profound grief
and deep sense of loss produced by his death were the highest tributes and
the most convincing proofs of his greatness.

In accordance with his wishes, all public forms and ceremonies were
dispensed with. The funeral took place at his home on Friday, October 29.
Thousands flocked to Marshfield to do honor to his memory, and to look for
the last time at that noble form. It was one of those beautiful days of the
New England autumn, when the sun is slightly veiled, and a delicate haze
hangs over the sea, shining with a tender silvery light. There is a sense
of infinite rest and peace on such a day which seems to shut out the noise
of the busy world and breathe the spirit of unbroken calm. As the crowds
poured in through the gates of the farm, they saw before them on the lawn,
resting upon a low mound of flowers, the majestic form, as impressive in
the repose of death as it had been in the fullness of life and strength.
There was a wonderful fitness in it all. The vault of heaven and the
spacious earth seemed in their large simplicity the true place for such a
man to lie in state. There was a brief and simple service at the house, and
then the body was borne on the shoulders of Marshfield farmers, and laid in
the little graveyard which already held the wife and children who had gone
before, and where could be heard the eternal murmur of the sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

In May, 1852, Mr. Webster said to Professor Silliman: "I have given my life
to law and politics. Law is uncertain and politics are utterly vain." It is
a sad commentary for such a man to have made on such a career, but it fitly
represents Mr. Webster's feelings as the end of life approached. His last
years were not his most fortunate, and still less his best years. Domestic
sorrows had been the prelude to a change of policy, which had aroused a
bitter opposition, and to the pangs of disappointed ambition. A sense of
mistake and failure hung heavily upon his spirits, and the cry of "vanity,
vanity, all is vanity," came readily to his lips. There is an infinite
pathos in those melancholy words which have just been quoted. The sun of
life, which had shone so splendidly at its meridian, was setting amid
clouds. The darkness which overspread him came from the action of the 7th
of March, and the conflict which it had caused. If there were failure and
mistake they were there. The presidency could add nothing, its loss could
take away nothing from the fame of Daniel Webster. He longed for it
eagerly; he had sacrificed much to his desire for it; his disappointment
was keen and bitter at not receiving what seemed to him the fit crown of
his great public career. But this grief was purely personal, and will not
be shared by posterity, who feel only the errors of those last years coming
after so much glory, and who care very little for the defeat of the
ambition which went with them.

Those last two years awakened such fierce disputes, and had such an
absorbing interest, that they have tended to overshadow the half century of
distinction and achievement which preceded them. Failure and disappointment
on the part of such a man as Webster seem so great, that they too easily
dwarf everything else, and hide from us a just and well proportioned view
of the whole career. Mr. Webster's success had, in truth, been brilliant,
hardly equalled in measure or duration by that of any other eminent man in
our history. For thirty years he had stood at the head of the bar and of
the Senate, the first lawyer and the first statesman of the United States.
This is a long tenure of power for one man in two distinct departments. It
would be remarkable anywhere. It is especially so in a democracy. This
great success Mr. Webster owed solely to his intellectual power
supplemented by great physical gifts. No man ever was born into the world
better formed by nature for the career of an orator and statesman. He had
everything to compel the admiration and submission of his fellow-men:--

           "The front of Jove himself;
    An eye like Mars to threaten and command;
    A station like the herald Mercury
    New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
    A combination and a form indeed,
    Where every god did seem to set his seal,
    To give the world assurance of a man."

Hamlet's words are a perfect picture of Mr. Webster's outer man, and we
have but to add to the description a voice of singular beauty and power
with the tone and compass of an organ. The look of his face and the sound
of his voice were in themselves as eloquent as anything Mr. Webster ever

But the imposing presence was only the outward sign of the man. Within was
a massive and powerful intellect, not creative or ingenious, but with a
wonderful vigor of grasp, capacious, penetrating, far-reaching. Mr.
Webster's strongest and most characteristic mental qualities were weight
and force. He was peculiarly fitted to deal with large subjects in a large
way. He was by temperament extremely conservative. There was nothing of the
reformer or the zealot about him. He could maintain or construct where
other men had built; he could not lay new foundations or invent. We see
this curiously exemplified in his feeling toward Hamilton and Madison. He
admired them both, and to the former he paid a compliment which has become
a familiar quotation. But Hamilton's bold, aggressive genius, his audacity,
fertility, and resource, did not appeal to Mr. Webster as did the prudence,
the constructive wisdom, and the safe conservatism of the gentle Madison,
whom he never wearied of praising. The same description may be given of his
imagination, which was warm, vigorous, and keen, but not poetic. He used it
well, it never led him astray, and was the secret of his most conspicuous
oratorical triumphs.

He had great natural pride and a strong sense of personal dignity, which
made him always impressive, but apparently cold, and sometimes solemn in
public. In his later years this solemnity degenerated occasionally into
pomposity, to which it is always perilously near. At no time in his life
was he quick or excitable. He was indolent and dreamy, working always under
pressure, and then at a high rate of speed. This indolence increased as he
grew older; he would then postpone longer and labor more intensely to make
up the lost time than in his earlier days. When he was quiescent, he seemed
stern, cold, and latterly rather heavy, and some outer incentive was needed
to rouse his intellect or touch his heart. Once stirred, he blazed forth,
and, when fairly engaged, with his intellect in full play, he was as grand
and effective in his eloquence as it is given to human nature to be. In the
less exciting occupations of public life, as, for instance, in foreign
negotiations, he showed the same grip upon his subject, the same capacity
and judgment as in his speeches, and a mingling of tact and dignity which
proved the greatest fitness for the conduct of the gravest public affairs.
As a statesman Mr. Webster was not an "opportunist," as it is the fashion
to call those who live politically from day to day, dealing with each
question as it arises, and exhibiting often the greatest skill and talent.
Still less was he a statesman of the type of Charles Fox, who preached to
the deaf ears of one generation great principles which became accepted
truisms in the next. Mr. Webster stands between the two classes. He viewed
the present with a strong perception of the future, and shaped his policy
not merely for the daily exigency, but with a keen eye to subsequent
effects. At the same time he never put forward and defended single-handed a
great principle or idea which, neglected then, was gradually to win its way
and reign supreme among a succeeding generation.

His speeches have a heat and glow which we can still feel, and a depth and
reality of thought which have secured them a place in literature. He had
not a fiery nature, although there is often so much warmth in what he said.
He was neither high tempered nor quick to anger, but he could be fierce,
and, when adulation had warped him in those later years, he was capable of
striking ugly blows which sometimes wounded friends as well as enemies.

There remains one marked quality to be noticed in Mr. Webster, which was of
immense negative service to him. This was his sense of humor. Mr. Nichol,
in his recent history of American literature, speaks of Mr. Webster as
deficient in this respect. Either the critic himself is deficient in humor
or he has studied only Webster's collected works, which give no indication
of the real humor in the man. That Mr. Webster was not a humorist is
unquestionably true, and although he used a sarcasm which made his
opponents seem absurd and even ridiculous at times, and in his more
unstudied efforts would provoke mirth by some happy and playful allusion,
some felicitous quotation or ingenious antithesis, he was too stately in
every essential respect ever to seek to make mere fun or to excite the
laughter of his hearers by deliberate exertions and with malice
aforethought. He had, nevertheless, a real and genuine sense of humor. We
can see it in his letters, and it comes out in a thousand ways in the
details and incidents of his private life. When he had thrown aside the
cares of professional or public business, he revelled in hearty, boisterous
fun, and he had that sanest of qualities, an honest, boyish love of pure
nonsense. He delighted in a good story and dearly loved a joke, although
no jester himself. This sense of humor and appreciation of the ridiculous,
although they give no color to his published works, where, indeed, they
would have been out of place, improved his judgment, smoothed his path
through the world, and saved him from those blunders in taste and those
follies in action which are ever the pitfalls for men with the fervid,
oratorical temperament.

This sense of humor gave, also, a great charm to his conversation and to
all social intercourse with him. He was a good, but never, so far as can be
judged from tradition, an overbearing talker. He never appears to have
crushed opposition in conversation, nor to have indulged in monologue,
which is so apt to be the foible of famous and successful men who have a
solemn sense of their own dignity and importance. What Lord Melbourne said
of the great Whig historian, "that he wished he was as sure of anything as
Tom Macaulay was of everything," could not be applied to Mr. Webster. He
owed his freedom from such a weakness partly, no doubt, to his natural
indolence, but still more to the fact that he was not only no pedant, but
not even a very learned man. He knew no Greek, but was familiar with Latin.
His quotations and allusions were chiefly drawn from Shakespeare, Milton,
Homer, and the Bible, where he found what most appealed to him--simplicity
and grandeur of thought and diction. At the same time, he was a great
reader, and possessed wide information on a vast variety of subjects, which
a clear and retentive memory put always at his command. The result of all
this was that he was a most charming and entertaining companion.

These attractions were heightened by his large nature and strong animal
spirits. He loved outdoor life. He was a keen sportsman and skilful
fisherman. In all these ways he was healthy and manly, without any tinge of
the mere student or public official. He loved everything that was large.
His soul expanded in the free air and beneath the blue sky. All natural
scenery appealed to him,--Niagara, the mountains, the rolling prairie, the
great rivers,--but he found most contentment beside the limitless sea, amid
brown marshes and sand-dunes, where the sense of infinite space is
strongest. It was the same in regard to animals. He cared but little for
horses or dogs, but he rejoiced in great herds of cattle, and especially in
fine oxen, the embodiment of slow and massive strength. In England the
things which chiefly appealed to him were the Tower of London, Westminster
Abbey, Smithfield cattle market, and English agriculture. So it was always
and everywhere. He loved mountains and great trees, wide horizons, the
ocean, the western plains, and the giant monuments of literature and art.
He rejoiced in his strength and the overflowing animal vigor that was in
him. He was so big and so strong, so large in every way, that people sank
into repose in his presence, and felt rest and confidence in the mere fact
of his existence. He came to be regarded as an institution, and when he
died men paused with a sense of helplessness, and wondered how the country
would get on without him. To have filled so large a space in a country so
vast, and in a great, hurrying, and pushing democracy, implies a
personality of a most uncommon kind.

He was, too, something more than a charming companion in private life. He
was generous, liberal, hospitable, and deeply affectionate. He was adored
in his home, and deeply loved his children, who were torn from him, one
after another. His sorrow, like his joy, was intense and full of force. He
had many devoted friends, and a still greater body of unhesitating
followers. To the former he showed, through nearly all his life, the warm
affection which was natural to him. It was not until adulation and flattery
had deeply injured him, and the frustrated ambition for the presidency had
poisoned both heart and mind, that he became dictatorial and overbearing.
Not till then did he quarrel with those who had served and followed him, as
when he slighted Mr. Lawrence for expressing independent opinions, and
refused to do justice to the memory of Story because it might impair his
own glories. They do not present a pleasant picture, these quarrels with
friends, but they were part of the deterioration of the last years, and
they furnish in a certain way the key to his failure to attain the
presidency. The country was proud of Mr. Webster; proud of his intellect,
his eloquence, his fame. He was the idol of the capitalists, the merchants,
the lawyers, the clergy, the educated men of all classes in the East. The
politicians dreaded and feared him because he was so great, and so little
in sympathy with them, but his real weakness was with the masses of the
people. He was not popular in the true sense of the word. For years the
Whig party and Henry Clay were almost synonymous terms, but this could
never be said of Mr. Webster. His following was strong in quality, but weak
numerically. Clay touched the popular heart. Webster never did. The people
were proud of him, wondered at him, were awed by him, but they did not love
him, and that was the reason he was never President, for he was too great
to succeed to the high office, as many men have, by happy or unhappy
accident. There was also another feeling which is suggested by the
differences with some of his closest friends. There was a lurking distrust
of Mr. Webster's sincerity. We can see it plainly in the correspondence of
the Western Whigs, who were not, perhaps, wholly impartial. But it existed,
nevertheless. There was a vague, ill-defined feeling of doubt in the
public mind; a suspicion that the spirit of the advocate was the ruling
spirit in Mr. Webster, and that he did not believe with absolute and
fervent faith in one side of any question. There was just enough
correctness, just a sufficient grain of truth in this idea, when united
with the coldness and dignity of his manner and with his greatness itself,
to render impossible that popularity which, to be real and lasting in a
democracy, must come from the heart and not from the head of the people,
which must be instinctive and emotional, and not the offspring of reason.

There is no occasion to discuss, or hold up to reprobation, Mr. Webster's
failings. He was a splendid animal as well as a great man, and he had
strong passions and appetites, which he indulged at times to the detriment
of his health and reputation. These errors may be mostly fitly consigned to
silence. But there was one failing which cannot be passed over in this way.
This was in regard to money. His indifference to debt was perceptible in
his youth, and for many years showed no sign of growth. But in his later
years it increased with terrible rapidity. He earned twenty thousand a year
when he first came to Boston,--a very great income for those days. His
public career interfered, of course, with his law practice, but there never
was a period when he could not, with reasonable economy, have laid up
something at the end of every year, and gradually amassed a fortune. But
he not only never saved, he lived habitually beyond his means. He did not
become poor by his devotion to the public service, but by his own
extravagance. He loved to spend money and to live well. He had a fine
library and handsome plate; he bought fancy cattle; he kept open house, and
indulged in that most expensive of all luxuries, "gentleman-farming." He
never stinted himself in any way, and he gave away money with reckless
generosity and heedless profusion, often not stopping to inquire who the
recipient of his bounty might be. The result was debt; then subscriptions
among his friends to pay his debts; then a fresh start and more debts, and
more subscriptions and funds for his benefit, and gifts of money for his
table, and checks or notes for several thousand dollars in token of
admiration of the 7th of March speech.[1] This was, of course, utterly
wrong and demoralizing, but Mr. Webster came, after a time, to look upon
such transactions as natural and proper. In the Ingersoll debate, Mr.
Yancey accused him of being in the pay of the New England manufacturers,
and his biographer has replied to the charge at length. That Mr. Webster
was in the pay of the manufacturers in the sense that they hired him, and
bade him do certain things, is absurd. That he was maintained and supported
in a large degree by New England manufacturers and capitalists cannot be
questioned; but his attitude toward them was not that of servant and
dependent. He seems to have regarded the merchants and bankers of State
Street very much as a feudal baron regarded his peasantry. It was their
privilege and duty to support him, and he repaid them with an occasional
magnificent compliment. The result was that he lived in debt and died
insolvent, and this was not the position which such a man as Daniel Webster
should have occupied.

[Footnote 1: The story of the gift of ten thousand dollars in token of
admiration of the 7th of March speech, referred to by Dr. Von Holst
(_Const. Hist. of the United States_) may be found in a volume entitled,
_In Memoriam, B. Ogle Tayloe_, p. 109, and is as follows: "My opulent and
munificent friend and neighbor Mr. William W. Corcoran," says Mr. Tayloe,
"after the perusal of Webster's celebrated March speech in defence of the
Constitution and of Southern rights, inclosed to Mrs. Webster her husband's
note for ten thousand dollars given him for a loan to that amount. Mr.
Webster met Mr. Corcoran the same evening, at the President's, and thanked
him for the 'princely favor.' Next day he addressed to Mr. Corcoran a
letter of thanks which I read at Mr. Corcoran's request." This version is
substantially correct. The morning of March 8 Mr. Corcoran inclosed with a
letter of congratulation some notes of Mr. Webster's amounting to some six
thousand dollars. Reflecting that this was not a very solid tribute, he
opened his letter and put in a check for a thousand dollars, and sent the
notes and the check to Mr. Webster, who wrote him a letter expressing his
gratitude, which Mr. Tayloe doubtless saw, and which is still in existence.
I give the facts in this way because Mr. George T. Curtis, in a newspaper
interview, referring to an article of mine in the _Atlantic Monthly_, said,
"With regard to the story of the ten thousand dollar check, which story Mr.
Lodge gives us to understand he found in the pages of that very credulous
writer Dr. Von Holst, although I have not looked into his volumes to see
whether he makes the charge, I have only to say that I never heard of such
an occurrence before, and that it would require the oath of a very credible
witness to the fact to make me believe it." I may add that I have taken the
trouble not only to look into Dr. Von Holst's volumes but to examine the
whole matter thoroughly. The proof is absolute and indeed it is not
necessary to go beyond Mr. Webster's own letter of acknowledgment in search
of evidence, were there the slightest reason to doubt the substantial
correctness of Mr. Tayloe's statement. The point is a small one, but a
statement of fact, if questioned, ought always to be sustained or

He showed the same indifference to the source of supplies of money in other
ways. He took a fee from Wheelock, and then deserted him. He came down to
Salem to prosecute a murderer, and the opposing counsel objected that he
was brought there to hurry the jury beyond the law and the evidence, and it
was even murmured audibly in the court-room that he had a fee from the
relatives of the murdered man in his pocket. A fee of that sort he
certainly received either then or afterwards. Every ugly public attack that
was made upon him related to money, and it is painful that the biographer
of such a man as Webster should be compelled to give many pages to show
that his hero was not in the pay of manufacturers, and did not receive a
bribe in carrying out the provisions of the treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo.
The refutation may be perfectly successful, but there ought to have been no
need of it. The reputation of a man like Mr. Webster in money matters
should have been so far above suspicion that no one would have dreamed of
attacking it. Debts and subscriptions bred the idea that there might be
worse behind, and although there is no reason to believe that such was the
case, these things are of themselves deplorable enough.

When Mr. Webster failed it was a moral failure. His moral character was not
equal to his intellectual force. All the errors he ever committed, whether
in public or in private life, in political action or in regard to money
obligations, came from moral weakness. He was deficient in that intensity
of conviction which carries men beyond and above all triumphs of
statesmanship, and makes them the embodiment of the great moral forces
which move the world. If Mr. Webster's moral power had equalled his
intellectual greatness, he would have had no rival in our history. But this
combination and balance are so rare that they are hardly to be found in
perfection among the sons of men. The very fact of his greatness made his
failings all the more dangerous and unfortunate. To be blinded by the
splendor of his fame and the lustre of his achievements and prate about the
sin of belittling a great man is the falsest philosophy and the meanest
cant. The only thing worth having, in history as in life, is truth; and we
do wrong to our past, to ourselves, and to our posterity if we do not
strive to render simple justice always. We can forgive the errors and
sorrow for the faults of our great ones gone; we cannot afford to hide or
forget their shortcomings.

But after all has been said, the question of most interest is, what Mr.
Webster represented, what he effected, and what he means in our history.
The answer is simple. He stands to-day as the preëminent champion and
exponent of nationality. He said once, "there are no Alleghanies in my
politics," and he spoke the exact truth. Mr. Webster was thoroughly
national. There is no taint of sectionalism or narrow local prejudice about
him. He towers up as an American, a citizen of the United States in the
fullest sense of the word. He did not invent the Union, or discover the
doctrine of nationality. But he found the great fact and the great
principle ready to his hand, and he lifted them up, and preached the gospel
of nationality throughout the length and breadth of the land. In his
fidelity to this cause he never wavered nor faltered. From the first burst
of boyish oratory to the sleepless nights at Marshfield, when, waiting for
death, he looked through the window at the light which showed him the
national flag fluttering from its staff, his first thought was of a united
country. To his large nature the Union appealed powerfully by the mere
sense of magnitude which it conveyed. The vision of future empire, the
dream of the destiny of an unbroken union touched and kindled his
imagination. He could hardly speak in public without an allusion to the
grandeur of American nationality, and a fervent appeal to keep it sacred
and intact. For fifty years, with reiteration ever more frequent,
sometimes with rich elaboration, sometimes with brief and simple allusion,
he poured this message into the ears of a listening people. His words
passed into text-books, and became the first declamations of school-boys.
They were in every one's mouth. They sank into the hearts of the people,
and became unconsciously a part of their life and daily thoughts. When the
hour came, it was love for the Union and the sentiment of nationality which
nerved the arm of the North, and sustained her courage. That love had been
fostered, and that sentiment had been strengthened and vivified by the life
and words of Webster. No one had done so much, or had so large a share in
this momentous task. Here lies the debt which the American people owe to
Webster, and here is his meaning and importance in his own time and to us
to-day. His career, his intellect, and his achievements are inseparably
connected with the maintenance of a great empire, and the fortunes of a
great people. So long as English oratory is read or studied, so long will
his speeches stand high in literature. So long as the Union of these States
endures, or holds a place in history, will the name of Daniel Webster be
honored and remembered, and his stately eloquence find an echo in the
hearts of his countrymen.


Aberdeen, Lord, succeeds Lord Palmerston as Secretary for Foreign Affairs,
  offers forty-ninth parallel, in accordance with Mr. Webster's suggestion,

Adams, John, in Massachusetts Convention, 111;
  letter to Webster on Plymouth oration, 123;
  eulogy on, 125;
  supposed speech of, 126.

Adams, John Quincy, most conspicuous man in New England, 129;
  opposed to Greek mission, 135;
  opinion of Webster's speech against tariff of 1824, 136;
  elected President, 137, 149;
  anxious for success of Panama mission, 140;
  message on Georgia and Creek Indians, 142;
  Webster's opposition to, 145;
  bitter tone toward Webster in Edwards's affair, 147;
  interview with Webster, 148, 149;
  conciliates Webster, 149;
  real hostility to Webster, 150;
  defeated for presidency, 151;
  comment on eulogy on Adams and Jefferson, 153;
  compared with Webster as an orator, 201;
  opinion of reply to Hayne, 206;
  opinion of Mr. Webster's attitude toward the South in 1838, 285.

Ames, Fisher, compared with Webster as an orator, 201.

Appleton, Julia Webster, daughter of Mr. Webster, death of, 271.

Ashburton, Lord, appointed special commissioner, 251;
  arrives in Washington, 253;
  negotiation with Mr. Webster, 255 ff.;
  attacked by Lord Palmerston, 259.

Ashmun, George, defends Mr. Webster, 269.

Atkinson, Edward, summary of Mr. Webster's tariff speech of 1824,

Bacourt, M. de, French Minister, description of Harrison's reception of
  diplomatic corps, 245.

Baltimore, Whig Convention at, 338.

Bank of the United States, debate on establishment, and defeat of, in
    1814-15, 62;
  established, 66;
  beginning of attack on, 208.

Bartlett, Ichabod, counsel for State against College, 79;
  attack on Mr. Webster, 80.

Bell, Samuel, remarks to Webster before reply to Hayne, 178.

Bellamy, Dr., early opponent of Eleazer Wheelock, 75.

Benton, Thomas H., account of Mr. Webster in 1833, 219, 220;
  error in view of Webster, 221;
  fails in first attempt to carry expunging resolution, 232;
  carries second expunging resolution, 234;
  attacks Ashburton treaty, 257;
  supports Taylor's policy in 1850, 312.

Bocanegra, M. de, Webster's correspondence with, 260.

"Boston Memorial," 275.

Bosworth, Mr., junior counsel in Rhode Island case, 105.

Brown, Rev. Francis, elected president of Dartmouth College, 78;
  refuses to obey new board of trustees, 79;
  writes to Webster as to state of public opinion, 94.

Buchanan, James, taunts Mr. Clay, 251;
  attacks Ashburton treaty, 257.

Bulwer, Sir Henry, respect for Mr. Webster, 336.

Burke, Edmund, Webster compared with as an orator, 199, 202, 203.

Calhoun, John C., speech in favor of repealing embargo, 53;
  sustains double duties, 55, 157;
  asks Webster's assistance to establish a bank, 63;
  introduces bill to compel revenue to be collected in specie, 66;
  internal improvement bill of, 68;
  visit to Webster, who regards him as his choice for President, 130-145;
  misleads Webster as to Greek mission, 135;
  author of exposition and protest, 171;
  presides over debate on Foote's resolution, 172;
  compared with Webster as an orator, 201;
  resigns vice-presidency and returns as Senator to support
    nullification, 212;
  alarmed at Jackson's attitude and at Force Bill, 214;
  consults Clay, 215;
  nullification speech on Force Bill, 215;
  merits of speech, 216;
  supports compromise, 219;
  alliance with Clay, 222;
  and Webster, 226;
  attitude in regard to France, 230;
  change on bank question, 236;
  accepts secretaryship of state to bring about annexation of Texas, 263;
  moves that anti-slavery petitions be not received, 1836, 281;
  bill to control United States mails, 282;
  tries to stifle petitions, 284;
  resolutions on Enterprise affair, 286;
  approves Webster's treatment of Creole case, 287;
  pronounces anti-slavery petition of New Mexico "insolent," 298;
  argument as to Constitution in territories, 298;
  Webster's compliments to on 7th of March, 326.

California, desires admission as a state, 299;
  slavery possible in, 319.

Carlyle, Thomas, description of Webster, 194.

Caroline, affair of steamboat, 247.

Cass, Lewis, attack upon Ashburton treaty, 259;
  Democratic candidate for presidency and defeated, 274.

Chamberlain, Mellen, comparison of Webster with other orators, 203, note.

Chatham, Earl of, compared with Webster as an orator, 201.

Choate, Rufus, compared with Webster as an orator, 202;
  resigns senatorship, 262;
  leads Webster delegates at Baltimore, 338.

Clay, Henry, makes Mr. Webster chairman of Judiciary Committee, 131;
  active support of Greek resolutions, 134;
  author of American system and tariff of 1824, 136, 163;
  desires Panama mission, 140;
  Webster's opposition to, 145;
  candidate for presidency in 1832, 207;
  bill for reduction of tariff, 1831-32, 211;
  consults with Calhoun, 215;
  introduces Compromise bill, 215;
  carries Compromise bill, 218, 219;
  alliance with Calhoun, 222;
  opinion of Webster's course in 1833, 222, 223;
  alliance with Webster, 226;
  introduces resolutions of censure on Jackson, 228;
  attitude in regard to France, 230;
  declines to enter Harrison's cabinet, 240;
  attacks President Tyler, 250, 251;
  movement in favor of, in Massachusetts, 258;
  nominated for presidency and defeated, 262;
  movement to nominate in 1848, 273;
  resolutions as to slavery in the District, 284;
  plan for compromise in 1850, 300;
  introduces Compromise bill in Senate, 301;
  policy of compromise, 309, 310;
  consistent supporter of compromise policy, 315;
  not a candidate for presidency in 1852, 337;
  popularity of, 355.

Clingman, Thomas L., advocates slavery in California, 320.

Congregational Church, power and politics of, in New Hampshire, 76.

Congress, leaders in thirteenth, 49;
  leaders in fourteenth, 64.

Cooper, James Fenimore, Webster's speech, at memorial meeting, 195.

Corcoran, Wm. W., gift to Mr. Webster, 357, note.

Crawford, William H., attack on by Ninian Edwards, 136, 146, 147;
  bids for support of Webster and Federalists, 146;
  defended by Webster, 147;
  fails to get support of Federalists, 148.

Creole, case of the, 253, 255, 287.

Crimes Act, 138.

Crittenden, John J., Morehead's letter to, about 7th of March speech, 326.

Cruising Convention, the, 255, 259.

Cumberland Road, bill for, 137.

Curtis, George T., biography of Webster, 1, note;
  opinion of reply to Calhoun, 216;
  of expunging resolution, 234;
  describes New York movement for Taylor as a blunder, 273;
  says majority disapproved 7th of March speech, 303;
  considers Taylor's policy in 1850 impracticable, 311;
  views as to danger of secession in 1850, 314.

Cushing, Caleb, Minister to China, 260;
  course in 1838, 285.

Dartmouth College case, account of, 74-97.

Davis, Daniel, 30.

Denison, John Evelyn, friendship and correspondence with Mr. Webster, 152.

Dexter, Samuel, a leader at Boston bar, 30;
  practises in New Hampshire, 36.

Dickinson, Daniel S., attack upon Mr. Webster, 268.

Disraeli, Benjamin, free trade a question of expediency, 169.

Douglas, Stephen A., offers amendment to Oregon bill, 294.

Dunham, Josiah, attacks Webster for deserting Wheelock, 77.

Durfree, American citizen killed on Caroline, 247.

Duvall, Judge, opposed to Dartmouth College, 87;
  writes dissenting opinion, 96.

Edwards, Ninian, charges against Mr. Crawford, 136, 146, 147;
  character of, 146, 147.

Enterprise, case of the, 286.

Erskine, Lord, compared with Webster as an orator, 202.

Everett, Edward, Webster desires appointment of as Commissioner to Greece,
  Minister to England, 252;
  refuses Chinese mission, 260.

Farrar, Timothy, report of Dartmouth College case, 81, 86.

Federalists, ruling party in New Hampshire, 76;
  defeated on college issue, 78;
  movement of to get decision for college, 92-94;
  position of in 1823, 130, 131;
  hostility to John Quincy Adams, 145, 146;
  attempted alliance with Crawford, 146-148;
  to be recognized by Adams, 149;
  free-traders in New England, 155 ff.

Fillmore, Millard, offers Mr. Webster secretaryship of state, 333;
  candidate for Whig nomination, 338;
  urges Mr. Webster to stay in the cabinet, 344.

Foote, Henry S., moves to refer admission of California to a select
  committee, 301.

Foote, Samuel A., resolution regarding public lands, 172.

Force Bill, introduced, 214;
  debated, 215, 216.

Forsyth, John, attacks Mr. Adams's message on Creek Indians, 142;
  answered by Webster, 142, 143.

Fox, Charles James, "no good speech reads well," 189;
  compared with Webster as an orator, 202;
  as a statesman, 350.

Fox, Henry S., British minister at Harrison's reception of diplomatic
    corps, 245;
  demands release of McLeod, 248.

Free-Soil party, nominations in 1848 do not obtain Webster's support,
    274, 296;
  attitude in regard to slavery in 1860, 316;
  injured by 7th of March speech, 324;
  revival and victory, 325.

Fryeburg, Maine, Webster's school at, 26;
  oration before citizens of, 27.

Gibbons vs. Ogden, case of, 99.

Giddings, Joshua R., opinion of Mr. Webster's attitude toward the South in
    1838, 286;
  says Mr. Webster inserted passage about free negroes and Mr. Hoar after
    delivery of 7th of March speech, 303;
  interview with Mr. Webster, 322.

Girard will case, 101, 261.

Goodrich, Dr. Chauncey A., description of close of Mr. Webster's argument
  in Dartmouth case, 89, 90.

Goodridge, Major, case of, 198.

Gore, Christopher, admits Mr. Webster as a student in his office, 28;
  character of, 29;
  advises Webster to refuse clerkship, moves his admission to the bar, 31.

Greece, revolution in, 132.

Hamilton, Alexander, compared with Webster as an orator, 201;
  as a financier, 208, 226, 228;
  in regard to attack on Adams, 274;
  Webster's opinion of, and feeling to, 349.

Hanover, oration before citizens of, 20, 22.

Harrison, William Henry, nominee of Whigs in 1836, 225;
  nominated by Whigs again in 1839; elected President, 240;
  character of inaugural speech, anecdote, 244;
  reception of diplomatic corps, 245;
  death of, 250.

Hartford Convention, Mr. Webster's view of, 58.

Harvey, Peter, character of his reminiscences, 95, note.

Hayne, Robert Y., first attack on New England, 172;
  second speech, 173;
  Webster's reply to, 174 ff., 279;
  effect of reply to, 206.

Henry, Patrick, compared with Webster as an orator, 200.

Hoar, Samuel, treatment of at Charleston, 302.

Holmes, John, counsel for State at Washington, poor argument, 84, 91.

Hopkinson, Joseph, with Mr. Webster in Dartmouth case at Washington, good
  argument of, 84.

Hülsemann, Mr., Austrian Chargé, Mr. Webster's correspondence with, 334;
  leaves the country in anger, 335.

Ingersoll, C.J., attack on Mr. Webster, 267-270.

Jackson, Andrew, Webster's opposition to as candidate for presidency, 145;
  accession to the presidency, 171;
  sweeping removals, 172;
  begins attack on bank, 208;
  vetoes bill for renewal of bank charter, 209;
  determined to maintain integrity of Union, 212;
  issues his proclamation, 213;
  message asking for Force Bill, cannot hold his party, supported by
    Webster, 214;
  threatens to hang Calhoun, 215;
  not sorry for compromise, 219;
  alliance with Webster impossible, 221;
  removes the deposits, 226;
  sends "Protest" to Senate, 228, 229;
  struggle with Senate and policy toward France, 230.

Jefferson, Thomas, intends an unlimited embargo, 45;
  eulogy on, 125.

Johnson, Judge, adverse at first to Dartmouth college, 87;
  converted to support of college, 93.

Kent, James, Chancellor, brought over to support of college, 93.

Kentucky, leaders in, opposed to Webster, 224, 225.

Kossuth, arrival and reception of in United States, 335.

Labouchere, Mr., 152.

Lawrence, Abbot, treatment of by Mr. Webster, 354.

Leroy, Caroline, Miss, second wife of Mr. Webster, 205.

Letcher, Robert P., opinion of Webster, 225.

Liberty party, 262, 287.

Lieber, Dr. Francis, opinion of Webster's oratory, 187.

Lincoln, Levi, elected senator from Massachusetts and declines, 144.

Livingston, Judge, adverse at first to Dartmouth college, 87;
  converted to support of college, 93.

Lobes Islands, affair of the, 336.

Lopez, invasion of Cuba, 336.

Madison, James, Federalists refuse to call on, 60;
  vetoes Bank Bill, 64;
  Mr. Webster's admiration for, 349.

Macgregor, Mr., of Glasgow, Webster's letter to, 266.

Maine, conduct in regard to northeastern boundary, 248, 254, 256.

Marshall, John, sympathy for Dartmouth College, 87;
  his political prejudices aroused by Webster, 88;
  announces that decision is reserved, 92;
  declines to hear Pinkney, 95;
  his decision, 96.

Marshfield, Mr. Webster's first visit to, 152;
  his affection for, 261;
  accident to Mr. Webster at, 343;
  Mr. Webster returns to, to die, 344;
  Mr. Webster buried at, 345, 346.

Mason, Jeremiah, character and ability, 38;
  effect upon, and friendship for Webster, 39;
  plain style and effect with juries, 40;
  thinks Webster would have made a good actor, 42;
  allied with trustees of college, 76;
  advises delay in removal of Wheelock, 78;
  appears for college, 79;
  brief in college case, 80;
  attaches but little importance to doctrine of impairing contracts, 81;
  unable to go to Washington, 84;
  Webster's remarks on death of, 127;
  supported by Webster for attorney-generalship, 148;
  and for senatorship, 150.

Mason, John Y., advocates slavery in California, 320;
  Webster's compliment to on 7th of March, 326.

Massachusetts, settlement of, 1, 2;
  constitutional convention of in 1820, 110;
  Webster's defence of, 185;
  conduct in regard to northeastern boundary, 248, 254;
  Whig convention of, declares against Tyler, 258.

McDuffie, George, Webster's reply to, on Cumberland Road Bill, 137, 173.

McLane, Louis, instructions of Van Buren to, as minister to England, 210.

McLeod, Alexander, boasts of killing Durfree, 247;
  arrested in New York, 247;
  habeas corpus refused, 249;
  proves an alibi and is acquitted, 252.

Melbourne, Lord, ministry of, beaten, 252.

Mexico, war with, declared, 270, 290.

Mills, E.H., failing health, leaves Senate, 144.

Monroe, James, visit to the North urged by Webster, 129.

New Hampshire, settlement of, 2;
  soil, etc., 3;
  people of, 4;
  bar of, 35, 36;
  Webster refuses to have his name brought forward by, in 1844, 262.

New Mexico, petitions against slavery, 298;
  quarrel with Texas, 299;
  slavery possible in, 319.

New Orleans, destruction of Spanish consulate at, 336.

New York, attitude of, in McLeod affair, 248, 249.

Niagara, Webster's visit to, and account of, 152.

Niblo's Garden, Mr. Webster's speech at, 238.

Nicaragua, British protectorate of 336.

Niles, Nathaniel, Judge, pupil of Bellamy and opponent of John Wheelock,

Noyes, Parker, early assistance to Webster, 107.

Nullification, Webster's discussion, and history of, 174 ff.

Ogden vs. Saunders, case of, 100.

Oregon, boundary of, Webster's effort to settle, 260-264;
  Webster's opinion in regard to boundary of, 265;
  claims of British and of Democracy, 285;
  territorial organization of, 294.

Otis, Harrison Gray, a leader at Boston bar, 30.

Palmerston, Lord, hostile to the United States, 248;
  assails Ashburton treaty and Lord Ashburton, 259.

Panama Congress, debate on mission to, 140, 279.

Parker, Isaac, Chief Justice, in Massachusetts convention, 111.

Parsons, Theophilus, Chief Justice of Massachusetts, 30;
  practice in New Hampshire, 36;
  argument as to visitatorial powers at Harvard College, 81.

Parton, James, description of Webster at public dinner, 195.

Peake, Thomas, "Law of Evidence," Webster's attack on, 37.

Peel, Sir Robert, effect of his obtaining office in 1841, 252.

Pickering, Timothy, unwavering Federalist, 50.

Pinkney, William, member of fourteenth Congress, 64;
  counsel of State in Dartmouth, case, 94, 95;
  anecdote of, with Webster, 95, note.

Plumer, William, leading lawyer in New Hampshire and early opponent of
  opinion of Webster, 36;
  refutes Mr. Webster's attack on "Peake," 37;
  in ill health and unable to act for Wheelock, 76;
  elected Governor and attacks trustees, 78.

Plymouth, oration at, 117-124, 277.

Polk, James K., elected President;
  committed to annexation policy, 263;
  principal events of his administration connected with slavery, 264;
  declarations as to Oregon, 265;
  accepts Lord Aberdeen's offer of forty-ninth parallel, 266;
  real intentions as to Mexico and England, 267;
  refuses information as to secret service fund, 269;
  brings on Mexican war, 270, 290;
  policy as to slavery in territories, 207.

Portugal, treaty with, 260.

Prescott, James, Judge, Webster's defence of, 197.

Randolph, John, member of fourteenth Congress, 64;
  challenges Webster, 67;
  takes part in debate on Greek resolution, 134.

Rhode Island, case of, 104, 105;
  troubles in, 260.

"Rockingham Memorial," 48.

"Rogers' Rangers," 5.

Root, Mr., of Ohio, resolution against extension of slavery in 1850, 314.

Scott, Winfield, nominated, for presidency, 338-343.

Seaton, Mrs., Webster at house of, 244.

Seward, William H., advises Taylor as to policy in 1850, 312.

Sheridan, R.B., compared with Webster as an orator, 201, 202.

Shirley, John M., history of Dartmouth College causes, 74.

Silliman, Prof. Benj., Mr. Webster's remark to on his own career, 346.

Smith, Jeremiah, Chief Justice of New Hampshire, 36;
  allied with trustees of the college, 76;
  appears for college, 79, 80;
  unable to go to Washington, 84.

Smith, Sidney, remark on Webster's appearance, 194.

Spanish claims, 152.

Sparks, Jared, obtains appointment of boundary commissioners by Maine, 254.

"Specie Circular," debate on, 233, 284.

South Carolina, agitation in against the tariff in 1828, 171;
  ordinance of nullification, 212;
  substantial victory of, in 1838, 219.

Stanley, Mr., Earl of Darby, 152.

Stevenson, Andrew, minister to England, unconciliatory, 248;
  retires, and is succeeded by Mr. Everett, 252.

Story, Joseph, chosen trustee of Dartmouth College by the State, 79;
  adverse to Dartmouth College, 87;
  converted to support of college, 93;
  writes opinion in Dartmouth case, 96;
  opinion of Girard will case argument, 102;
  Webster's obligations to, 108;
  a member of Massachusetts convention, 111;
  supports property qualification for the Senate, 115;
  opinion of Webster's work in the convention, 116, 117;
  Webster's remarks on death of, 127;
  assists Webster in preparing Crimes Act, 138;
  and Judiciary Bill, 189;
  description of Mr. Webster after his wife's death, 155;
  assists Webster in Ashburton negotiation, 256;
  treatment of, by Webster, 364.

Sullivan, George, leading lawyer in New Hampshire, 36;
  counsel for Woodward and State trustees, able argument, 79.

Sullivan, James, 30.

Taney, Roger, removes the deposits, 226.

Tayloe, B. Ogle, anecdote of Mr. Corcoran's gift to Webster, 357.

Taylor, Zachary, tempting candidate for Whigs, 272;
  movement for, in New York, 273;
  nominated for presidency, 273;
  elected President, 274;
  elected by Southern votes, 296;
  advises admission of California, 301;
  attitude and policy in 1850, 311, 312;
  death, 333;
  agent sent to Hungary by, 333.

Tazewell, L.W., Mr. Webster's reply to on Process Bill, 155.

Tehuantepec, Isthmus of, right of way over, 336.

Texas, independence of, achieved, 232;
  annexation of, 263, 289;
  Mr. Webster's warning against annexation, 288;
  admission as a State, 280;
  plan to divide, 294;
  troubles with New Mexico, 299.

Thompson, Thomas W., Webster a student in his office, 27.

Ticknor, George, account of Plymouth oration, 118, 119;
  impression of Plymouth oration, 120;
  description of Webster at Plymouth, 122;
  account of Webster's appearance in eulogy on Adams and Jefferson, 152,

Todd, Judge, opposed to Dartmouth College, 87;
  absent at decision, 96.

Tyler, John, succeeds to presidency on death of Harrison;
  vetoes Bank Bill, 250;
  quarrels with Whigs, 251;
  read out of party by Massachusetts Whigs, 258.

Van Buren, Martin, instructions to McLane, 210;
  confirmation as minister to England, opposed, 210;
  confirmation of, defeated, 211;
  elected President, character of his administration, 236;
  defeated for a second term, 240;
  candidate of Free-Soil party in 1848, 274, 296.

Washington, Bushrod, Judge, friendly to college, 87;
  opinion in favor of college, 96.

Washington, city of, appearance of, and society in, in 1841, 241-243.

Washington, George, opinion of Ebenezer Webster, 7;
  oration upon, 127.

Webster, Abigail Eastman, second wife of Ebenezer and mother of Daniel, 8;
  assents to Ezekiel's going to college, 24.

Webster, Daniel.
  Birth, delicacy, friendship with old sailor, 9;
  at the district schools, 10;
  reads to the teamsters, reads books in circulating library, 11;
  at Exeter Academy, with Dr. Wood, learns that he is to go to college, 12;
  enters Dartmouth College, 13;
  sacrifices made to him in childhood, 14;
  Ezekiel lends him money, manner of accepting devotion of those about him,
  studies and scholarship, 16, 17;
  opinions of fellow students; his general conduct, 18;
  eloquence and appearance in college, 19;
  edits newspaper, writes verses, 20;
  oration at Hanover, 20-22;
  other orations in college, begins study of law, 23;
  obtains his father's consent to Ezekiel's going to college, 24;
  teaches school at Fryeburg, 25;
  conduct and appearance at Fryeburg, 26;
  delivers oration at Fryeburg; returns to Salisbury and studies law, 27;
  goes to Boston and is admitted to Mr. Gore's office, 28;
  sees leaders of Boston bar, 29;
  appointed clerk of his father's court, 30;
  declines the office, 31;
  opens an office at Boscawen; moves to Portsmouth, 32;
  early habit of debt, 33;
  first appearance in court, 34;
  early manner, 37;
  described by Mason, opinion of Mason's ability, 38;
  value of Mason's example, 40;
  married to Miss Grace Fletcher, at Salisbury, 41;
  home in Portsmouth, popularity, mimicry, conservatism in religion and
    politics, 42;
  moderate and liberal federalist, 43;
  gradual entrance into politics, "appeal to old Whigs," speeches at
    Salisbury and Concord, pamphlet on embargo, 44;
  line of argument against embargo, "The State of our Literature," speech
    at Portsmouth, 1812, 45;
  character of opposition to war in this speech, 46, 47;
  writes the "Rockingham Memorial," 48;
  elected to Congress, placed on Committee on Foreign Relations, 49;
  introduces resolutions on French decrees, votes steadily with his party,
  dropped from Committee on Foreign Relations, tries to obtain debate on
    his resolutions, 51;
  strong speech against Enlistment Bill, 52;
  speech on repeal of embargo, replies to Calhoun, 54;
  remarks on double duties, 55;
  character of these speeches, 56;
  superiority to other speakers in Congress, 57;
  views as to Hartford Convention, 58;
  votes against war taxes, 59;
  partisanship, calls on Mr. Madison, 60;
  conversational manner in debate, 61;
  takes a leading part in debate on establishment of bank, 1814-15, 62;
  power of his argument against irredeemable paper, 63;
  opinion of fourteenth Congress, 64;
  speech against Bank Bill in session of 1815-16, 66;
  votes against Bank Bill, introduces specie resolutions, carries them, 66;
  challenged by Randolph, 67;
  votes for internal improvements, retires from public life, 68;
  removal to Boston, success in Supreme Court of United States, 69;
  grief at the death of his daughter Grace, 70;
  position on leaving Congress, 71;
  reception in Boston, 72;
  importance of period upon which he then entered, 73;
  consulted by John Wheelock on troubles with trustees, 76;
  refuses to appear before legislative committee for Wheelock, and goes
    over to side of trustees, his excuse, 77;
  advises efforts to soothe Democrats and circulation of rumors of
    founding a new college, 78;
  joins Mason and Smith in re-argument at Exeter, 79;
  anger at Bartlett's attack, fine argument at Exeter, 80;
  relies for success on general principles, and has but little faith in
    doctrine of impairing obligation of contracts, 81, 82;
  gives but little space to this doctrine in his argument at Washington,
  raises money in Boston to defray expenses of college case, 84;
  adds but little to argument of Mason and Smith, 85;
  "something left out" in report of his argument, 86;
  dexterous argument, appeal to political sympathies of Marshall, 87;
  depicts Democratic attack on the college, 88;
  description of concluding passage of his argument, 89-91;
  moves for judgment _nunc pro tunc_, 96;
  true character of success in this case, 97, 98;
  argument in Gibbons vs. Ogden, 99;
  in Ogden vs. Saunders and other cases, 100;
  in Girard will case, 101, 102;
  nature of his religious feeling, 103;
  argument in Rhode Island case, 104;
  attracts audiences even to legal arguments, anecdote of Mr. Bosworth,
  skill in seizing vital points, 106;
  capacity for using others, early acknowledgment, later ingratitude, 107;
  refusal to acknowledge Judge Story's assistance, 108;
  comparative standing as a lawyer, 109;
  leader of conservative party in Massachusetts Convention, 111;
  speech on abolition of religious test, 112;
  on property qualification, for the Senate, 113, 115;
  on the independence of the Judiciary, 116;
  Plymouth oration, 117;
  manner and appearance, 118;
  fitness for occasional oratory, 120;
  great success at Plymouth, 121, 122;
  improvement in first Bunker Hill oration, quality of style, 124;
  oration on Adams and Jefferson, 125;
  supposed speech of John Adams, 126;
  oration, before Mechanics Institute, other orations, 127;
  oration on laying corner-stone of addition to capitol, 128;
  reëlected to Congress, 129;
  political position in 1823, 130;
  placed at head of Judiciary Committee, 131;
  speech on revolution in Greece, 132;
  its objects and purposes, 133, 134;
  withdraws his resolutions, success of his speech, 135;
  speech against tariff of 1824, defends Supreme Court, 136;
  speech on the Cumberland Road Bill, 137;
  carries through the Crimes Act, 138;
  carries Judiciary Bill through House, lost in Senate, 139;
  supports mission to Panama Congress, 140, 141;
  supports reference of message on Georgia and Creek Indians, 142;
  tone of his speech, 143;
  elected senator from Massachusetts, 144;
  early inclination to support Calhoun, opposition to Jackson and Adams,
  to Clay, relations with Crawford, 146;
  on committee to examine charges of Edwards, defends Crawford, 147;
  wishes Mr. Mason to be Attorney-General, and English mission for himself,
    takes but little part in election, 148;
  interview with Mr. Adams, 148, 149;
  friendly relations with Mr. Adams, supports administration, 149;
  real hostility to, feels that he is not properly recognized, and accepts
    senatorship, 150;
  inactive in election, allied with Clay and Adams, and founders of Whig
    party, 161;
  Spanish claims, first sees Marshfield, English friends, Niagara, oration
    at Bunker Hill, and eulogy on Adams and Jefferson, 152, 153;
  grief on death of his wife, 154;
  appearance in Washington after death of his wife, 155;
  speech on bill for revolutionary officers, on tariff of 1828, 156, 165;
  free-trade Federalist when he entered Congress, 157;
  remarks in 1814 on protective duties, 158, 159;
  advocates modifications in tariff of 1816, 160;
  speech at Faneuil Hall against tariff in 1820, 160-163;
  speech against tariff of 1824, 163-165;
  reasons for his change of position, as to tariff in 1828, 166, 167;
  speech at Boston dinner, 167;
  character of this change of policy, and question of consistency, 168;
  treats free trade or protection as a question of expediency, 169;
  change on the constitutional question, 170;
  opposes Jackson's removals from office, 172;
  first speech on Foote's resolution, 173;
  second speech, reply to Hayne, 174;
  argument on nullification, 175;
  weak places in his argument, 176;
  intention in this speech, definition of the Union as it is, 179, 180;
  scene of the speech and feeling at the North, 181;
  opening sentence of the speech, 182;
  manner and appearance on that day, 183;
  variety in the speech, 184;
  sarcasm, defence of Massachusetts, 185;
  character of his oratory, 186, 187;
  of his imagination, 188;
  of his style, 189;
  preparation of speeches, 190;
  physical appearance and attributes, 191, 192;
  manner with and effect on children, 193;
  effect of his appearance in England, 194;
  anecdotes of effect produced by his look and appearance, 195;
  constitutional indolence, needs something to excite him in later life,
    anecdote, 196;
  defence of Prescott, 197;
  Goodridge case, White case, greatness of argument in latter, 198;
  opening passage compared with Burke's description of Hyder Ali's
    invasion, 199;
  as a jury lawyer, 200;
  compared in eloquence with other great orators, 201, 202;
  perfect taste of as an orator, 203;
  rank as an orator, 204;
  change made by death of Ezekiel and by second marriage, 205;
  general effect on the country of reply to Hayne, 206;
  ambition for presidency begins, desires consolidation of party, no
    chance for nomination, 207;
  advocates renewal of bank charter, 208;
  overthrows doctrines of bank veto, 209;
  opposes confirmation of Van Buren as minister to England, 210;
  defeats confirmation, 211;
  predicts trouble from tariff, 212;
  sees proclamation, wholly opposed to Clay's first Compromise Bill, 213;
  sustains the administration and supports the Force Bill, 214;
  reply to Calhoun, "the Constitution not a compact," 216, 217;
  opposes the Compromise Bill, 218;
  Benton's view of, 219, 220;
  impossible to ally himself with Jackson, 221;
  joins Clay and Calhoun, 222;
  soundness of his opposition to compromise, 223;
  falls in behind Clay, tour in the West, nominated by Massachusetts for
    presidency, 224;
  no chance of success, effect of desire for presidency, 225;
  alliance with Clay and Calhoun, opinion as to the bank, 226;
  presents Boston resolutions against President's course, 227;
  speaks sixty-four times on bank during session, 228;
  speech on the "protest," 229;
  attitude in regard to troubles with France, 230;
  defeats Fortification Bill, speech on executive patronage, 231;
  defeat of Benton's first expunging resolution, 232;
  defence of his course on Fortification Bill, 233;
  speech on "Specie Circular" and against expunging resolution, 234;
  desires to retire from the Senate but is persuaded to remain, 235;
  efforts to mitigate panic, 236;
  visits England, hears of Harrison's nomination for presidency, 237;
  enters campaign, speech of 1837 at Niblo's Garden, 238;
  speeches during campaign, 239;
  accepts secretaryship of state, 240;
  modifies Harrison's inaugural, "kills proconsuls," 244;
  De Bacourt's account of, at reception of diplomatic corps, 245, 246;
  opinion as to general conduct of difficulties with England, 248;
  conduct of McLeod affair, 249;
  deprecates quarrel with Tyler, 250;
  decides to remain in the cabinet, 252;
  conduct of the Creole case, 253;
  management of Maine and Massachusetts, settles boundary, 254;
  obtains "Cruising Convention," and extradition clause, letter on
    impressment, 255;
  character of negotiation and its success, 256;
  treaty signed, "the battle of the maps," continues in cabinet, 257;
  refuses to be forced from cabinet, 258;
  speech in Faneuil Hall defending his course, 258;
  character of this speech, explains "Cruising Convention," 259;
  refutes Cass, other labors in State Department, 260;
  resigns secretaryship of state and resumes his profession, 261;
  anxiety about Texas and Liberty party, supports Clay, 262;
  reëlected to the Senate, 263;
  efforts to maintain peace with England, speech in Faneuil Hall, 265;
  letter to Macgregor suggesting forty-ninth parallel, opposition to war in
    the Senate, 266;
  attacked by Ingersoll and Dickinson, 267;
  speech in defence of Ashburton treaty, 268;
  remarks on President Polk's refusal of information as to secret service
    fund, careless in his accounts, 269;
  absent when Mexican war declared, course on war measures, tour in the
    South, 270;
  denounces acquisition of territory, death of his son and daughter, visit
    to Boston for funerals, 271;
  refuses nomination for vice-presidency and opposes the nomination of
    Taylor, 272;
  has only a few votes in convention of 1848, 273;
  disgusted with the nomination of Taylor, decides to support it, speech at
    Marshfield, 274;
  course on slavery, draws Boston memorial, 275;
  character of this memorial, 276;
  attack on slave-trade in Plymouth oration, 277;
  compared with tone on same subject in 1850, 278;
  silence as to slavery in Panama speech, 279;
  treatment of slavery in reply to Hayne, 279, 280;
  treatment of anti-slavery petitions in 1836, 281;
  treatment of slavery in speech at Niblo's Garden, 282, 283;
  treatment of anti-slavery petitions in 1837, 284;
  views as to abolition in the District, 285;
  attitude toward the South in 1838, 280;
  adopts principle of Calhoun's Enterprise resolutions in Creole case, 287;
   attempts to arouse the North as to annexation of Texas, 288;
  objections to admission of Texas, 280;
  absent when Mexican war declared, 290;
  views on Wilmot Proviso, 291;
  speech at Springfield, 292;
  speech on objects of Mexican war, 293;
  Oregon, speech on slavery in the territories, 294;
  speech on Oregon Bill, and at Marshfield on Taylor's nomination, 295;
  adheres to Whigs, declares his belief in Free Soil principles, 296;
  effort to put slavery aside, 297;
  plan for dealing with slavery in Mexican conquests, refutes Calhoun's
    argument as to Constitution in territories, 298;
  Clay's plan of compromise submitted to, 300;
  delivers 7th of March speech, 301;
  analysis of 7th of March speech, 301, 302;
  speech disapproved at the North, 303;
  previous course as to slavery summed up, change after reply to Hayne,
  grievances of South, 305;
  treatment of Fugitive Slave Law, 305-308;
  course in regard to general policy of compromise; merits of that policy,
  views as to danger of secession, 313, 314;
  necessity of compromise in 1850, 315;
  attitude of various parties in regard to slavery, 316;
  wishes to finally settle slavery question, 317;
  treatment of extension of slavery, 318;
  disregards use of slaves in mines, 319;
  inconsistent on this point, 321;
  interviews with Giddings and Free-Soilers, 322;
  real object of speech, 323;
  immediate effect of speech in producing conservative reaction, 324;
  compliments Southern leaders in 7th of March speech, 325, 326;
  effort to sustain the compromise measures, bitter tone, 327;
  attacks anti-slavery movement, 328, 329;
  uneasiness evident, 330;
  motives of speech, 330-332;
  accepts secretaryship of state, 333;
  writes the Hülsemann letter, 334;
  treatment of Kossuth and Hungarian question, 335;
  of other affairs of the department, 336:
  hopes for nomination for presidency, 337;
  belief that he will be nominated, 338;
  loss of the nomination, 339;
  refuses to support Scott, 340;
  character of such a course, 341-343;
  declining health, accident at Marshfield, 344;
  death and burial, 345;
  disappointments in his later years, 346;
  his great success in life, 347;
  his presence, 348;
  character of his intellect, 348, 349;
  dignity, 349;
  character as a statesman, 350;
  sense of humor, 351;
  charm in conversation, 352;
  large nature, love of large things, 353;
  affection, generosity, treatment of friends, 355;
  admired but not generally popular, 356;
  distrust of his sincerity, 355, 356;
  failings, indifference to debt, 356;
  extravagance, 357;
  attacked on money matters, 358;
  attitude toward New England capitalists and in regard to sources of
    money, 359;
  moral force not equal to intellectual, 360;
  devotion to Union, place in history, 361-362.

Webster, Ebenezer, born in Kingston, enlists in "Rangers," 5;
  settles at Salisbury, 6;
  marries again, serves in Revolution, 7;
  physical and mental qualities, 8;
  made a judge, 11;
  resolves to educate Daniel, 12;
  consents to let Ezekiel go to college, 24;
  disappointment at Daniel's refusal of clerkship, 31;
  death, 32;
  strong federalist, anecdote, 48.

Webster, Edward, Major, death of, 270.

Webster, Ezekiel, anecdote of his lending Daniel money, 15;
  obtains consent of his father to go to college, 24;
  teaches school in Boston, 28;
  admitted to bar, 32;
  strong Federalist, 43;
  death of, 205.

Webster, Grace, daughter of Daniel Webster, illness, 65;
  death, 70.

Webster, Grace Fletcher, first wife of Mr. Webster;
  marriage and character, 41, 42;
  death, 164.

Webster, Thomas, first of name, 5.

Wheelock, Eleazer, founder of Dartmouth College, 75.

Wheelock, John, succeeds his father as President of Dartmouth College, 75;
  begins war on trustees; consults Mr. Webster, 76;
  writes to Webster to appear before legislative committee, 77;
  removed from presidency and goes over to the Democrats, 78;
  originator of the doctrine of impairing obligation of contracts, 81;
  fees Mr. Webster, 359.

Whig Party, origin of, 151;
  condition in 1836, 235;
  nominate Harrison, 237, 238;
  carries the country in 1840, 240;
  anger against Tyler, 250;
  murmurs against Mr. Webster's remaining in Tyler's cabinet, 267;
  attacks of, in Massachusetts, upon Tyler, 258;
  silence about slavery and Texas, are defeated in 1844, 262, 289;
  nominate Taylor, 273;
  indifference to Mr. Webster's warning as to Texas, 288;
  attitude in regard to slavery in 1850, 316;
  nomination of Scott by, in 1852, 338-343.

White, Stephen, case of murder of, Webster's speech for prosecution, 198
  Webster's fee in, 359.

Wilmot Proviso, Mr. Webster's views on, 291-293;
  embodied in Oregon Bill, 295;
  shall it be applied to New Mexico, 299;
  attacked in 7th of March speech, 301, 302.

Wirt, William, counsel for State in Dartmouth case at Washington,
    unprepared, makes poor argument, 84, 91;
  anecdote of daughter of and Mr. Webster, 193.

Wood, Dr., of Boscawen, Webster's tutor, 12, 13.

Woodward, William H., secretary of new board of trustees; action against,

Wortley, Mr. Stuart, 152.

Yancey, William L., attack on Webster, 358.

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